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Blessings Alight: JCC’s Project Joy Brightens Holiday Season For Those In Need

December 2, 2018

Blessings alight

JCC’s Project Joy brightens holiday season for those in need

Christmas and Hanukkah come just once a year, but Clarks Summit resident Carol Leventhal always is on the lookout for a bargain.

The longtime chairwoman of Project Joy has to be — she has plenty of children and families in need to look out for come the winter holidays, all of whom will benefit from the community’s generosity through toys, home goods, gift cards and more.

Started decades ago by the late Rosebud Leventhal, Carol Leventhal’s mother-in-law, Project Joy initially provided gifts to children in local hospitals. It still does that — retired nurse Carol Leventhal swings by the pediatric departments of Moses Taylor Hospital and Geisinger Community Medical Center armed with gifts each December — but through the years has added several other local community gift initiatives to its roster of beneficiaries.

Giving to kids and families who otherwise would not have a happy holiday just “feels so good,” Leventhal said on a recent afternoon at the Scranton Jewish Community Center, 601 Jefferson Ave.

Although Project Joy has always been part of the JCC’s programs, it has continuously focused on all holidays, rather than just Hanukkah or Christmas, said Dan Cardonick, JCC executive director. Of all the children who will benefit from this year’s effort, Leventhal said, just two are Jewish.

In 2017, more than 100 local children received gifts through Project Joy, which fulfilled wish lists from kids and families from groups such as Jewish Family Services, the Catherine McAuley Center, St. Joseph’s Center, Lackawanna County Children and Youth Services, United Neighborhood Centers of Northeastern Pennsylvania and the Children’s Advocacy Center of Northeastern Pennsylvania.

Cardonick called Project Joy a “natural task for us to take on” to help the community.

“It’s part of the fabric of our mission,” he said. “We promote positive values, Jewish values, to the community.”

In mid-December, Leventhal will bring about three carloads of gifts to the JCC — comprised of toys, books and stuffed animals for kids as well as items such as sheets and other home supplies for families — that she has stored at her home. She and other volunteers sort the presents according to beneficiary and then wrap everything, traditionally topping the gifts with a stuffed animal.

“It’s quite an operation, and they’ve got it down,” Cardonick said.

Volunteers this year will wrap the gifts on Thursday, Dec. 13, starting at 9 a.m. at the JCC, and Leventhal said helpers are always welcome.

“Everybody feels so good,” she said.

JCC staff members help, too, and kids attending preschool there also come down to see what’s happening as another way to promote Jewish values, Cardonick said. So many kids have so much that they don’t have to think about whether they’ll get gifts at the holidays, Leventhal said.

Caronick noted this effort helps instill a charitable spirit in children early. One of his own daughters witnessed the Project Joy program as a preschooler and now often wraps up or creates gifts to make others smile.

“It puts in their head that ... not everybody gets gifts,” Cardonick said of the program.

All of the money for Project Joy comes through donations, and people interested in helping can send donations for the program payable to the JCC at 601 Jefferson Ave., Scranton, PA 18510, or drop off new, unwrapped toys there.

Leventhal said several local stores have given gift cards in the past, and she handles the shopping, picking up whatever she can whenever she can, not just during the holidays. If she sees something on sale, she grabs it, even if it’s months before Christmas.

“I don’t worry that the money’s not going to come in, because the money always comes in,” she said.

Leventhal said she wishes she could see the faces of the children and families as they open their gifts, but she does sometimes get feedback in the form of letters that come in thanking them “for making this holiday special,” she said.

“This project is probably the nearest and dearest thing to me,” she said.

Contact the writer: cwest@timesshamrock.com; 570-348-9100 x5107; @cheaneywest on Twitter

To donate

Send donations to Project Joy payable to the Scranton JCC at 601 Jefferson Ave., Scranton, PA 18510, or drop off a new, unwrapped toy at the JCC.

 

To volunteer

Volunteers will wrap gifts Thursday, Dec. 13, starting at 9 a.m. at the Scranton JCC, 601 Jefferson Ave. RSVP to chairwoman Carol Leventhal at 570-587-2931 or 570-586-0241.

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