Volunteer Malky Kozlov with Meira Hurvitz and Yosef hug each other at The Spot.
Credit: Photos courtesy Detroit Chesed Project - Volunteer Malky Kozlov with Meira Hurvitz and Yosef at The Spot.

Detroit Chesed Project keeps expanding its reach to help more people.

Rochel Burstyn Contributing Writer

To make a difference, sometimes all that’s needed is a serious desire and willingness to help, and then things will snowball from there. Detroit Chesed Project (DCP) began with five men, all from different industries, who connected five years ago with a shared intent to “give back” to the community.

After the flood of 2014, DCP worked closely with Jewish Family Service, organizing the delivery of thousands of pieces of bedroom furniture to families who’d lost theirs in the flood.

Avi Rubin and Tzadok Eliyahu stand and smile together in suits and ties.
Avi Rubin and Tzadok Eliyahu, both of Oak Park, were among the original five founders of Detroit Chesed Project; now they oversee the organization. Jackie Headapohl | Detroit Jewish News

Today, DCP has grown into a community-wide chesed (kindness) organization, with a separate head for each division. Avi Rubin and Tzadok Eliyahu, both of Oak Park, each with young families and full-time jobs, oversee the entire organization in their “spare” time.

“We’re constantly having meetings and brainstorming how to improve,” Eliyahu said. “There are constant hurdles in running an organization, but it’s enormously satisfying to be fulfilling the needs of our community.”

DCP is much different from JFS’ Project Chessed, which helped more than 2,000 people who had no insurance with medical needs, including doctor appointments, surgery and medication. That program ended when the Affordable Care Act was passed.

Detroit Chesed Project’s magic is that it is completely volunteer-based.

Channie Goldstein of Oak Park first got involved when she was driving her middle-school-age daughter to and from her volunteer position at DCP. Eventually, she took on numerous responsibilities within the organization and now manages DCP’s clothing and home goods store with Milaine Grossbard of Southfield. Customers come by appointment and discreetly “shop” for needed items. As needs are discovered, DCP works to fill them.

“We were initially given coats,” Goldstein said. “Once, I put this warm winter coat on a kid and saw holes in his shoes. I said there’s something wrong here. We made phone calls to manufacturers and started supplying shoes, too.”

Life happens — sudden medical emergencies, financial crises — and DCP is aware that it’s not just clothing that is moved to the backburner. Sometimes it’s groceries as well.

“When people have to choose between paying their utility bills or buying Shabbat groceries, they’ll choose to have a warm home,” Rubin said. DCP’s Tomchei Shabbos (literally, Supporters of Shabbat) program delivers approximately 140 meals weekly so quietly that most people don’t even know the program exists until they need it.

Needed Respite

The Spot, a local respite program for children with special needs, was started by Shoshana Lob and Elisheva Goldberg in 2016. They’d arranged for volunteers to meet the children in a Southfield apartment, where they’d play and sing together for two hours. After a few months, the apartment was no longer available, and Lob and Goldberg turned to DCP for help.

Meira Hurvitz shows her love for The Spot with an art piece with a cut out heart
Meira Hurvitz shows her love for The Spot. Jackie Headapohl | Detroit Jewish News

Not only did DCP find them a new location, they took The Spot under their wings and helped the program grow. Currently, The Spot is open five days a week at Beth Shalom Synagogue in Oak Park, offers a Sunday afternoon trip and has a separate program for older girls. Dinner is donated by local establishments, so the kids with special needs are sent home fed, happy and ready for bed a few hours later.

Eliyahu gifted his minivan to The Spot so they could also provide pick-up and drop-off. Still, Lob and Goldberg are praying for a wheelchair-accessible van so more kids can participate.

It’s not just the kids with special needs who benefit. “More than what The Spot does for the kids with special needs, it does for their siblings, by relieving some of the pressure when they come home after a long day of school,” Rubin said.

He says most of the parents’ attention is usually on their child with special needs and The Spot enables them to give more attention to their other children.

Miriam Pearl Bein of Southfield sends her 6-year-old son Aron to The Spot. “The volunteers are amazing — they work with kids who can be difficult and have challenging behaviors, yet they do it with a smile and keep coming back, week after week! Aron attending The Spot has given me and my husband a chance to spend extra time with our other kids and do activities that we wouldn’t necessarily be able to do when he is home.”

From 5-7 p.m. is crunch time in any busy household with the homework, dinner, bath and bedtime routine.

“The families feel such relief that their child/sibling is being taken care of and surrounded by loving volunteers,” Lob said. “And these kids become local celebrities; the volunteers get to know and love them, and the siblings feel it, too!”

My Special Project

Inclusion is an important aspect of DCP. A program called My Special Project that provides seasonal services or items, like backpacks filled with school supplies and holiday clothing, is aimed at ensuring that kids from families undergoing crises don’t feel different from their peers.

Yosef plays in shaving cream at The Spot, a program of the Detroit Chesed Project
Courtesy: Detroit Chesed Project – Yosef plays in shaving cream at The Spot, a program of the Detroit Chesed Project Detroit Chesed Project

“When families are undergoing financial, emotional or medical difficulties, it affects the whole household. Grownups have an easier time dealing with falling on hard times. But kids get to school and all they see is what their classmates have and they don’t; for example, inadequate school supplies, a healthy lunch or torn clothes,” Eliyahu said. “Looking different can be a breeding ground for potential bullying, too, which makes their situation that much worse. We want to minimize the differences between the kids, minimize their pain, while giving each child a chance to grow and succeed during these most important and impressionable years.”

Beyond seasonal items, My Special Project does a bit of everything. They’ve paid for counseling services, delivered meals to women in shelters and helped a new single mom set up her apartment. “One woman told me she was using dish soap as shampoo because she couldn’t afford toiletries. Needless to say, we bought her toiletries. When there’s a need, we try to fill it any way we can,” Goldstein said.

“The families feel such relief that their child/sibling is being taken care of and surrounded by loving volunteers.”
— Shoshana Lob

Lunches with Love

In May 2018, a teacher from a local Jewish day school shared with DCP that she had a student who was bringing a single slice of bread for lunch every day. It wasn’t even in a plastic baggie. She was also aware of other students from underprivileged families bringing similar sad-looking lunches.

That’s when Lunches with Love was born. Under the instruction of Ayelet Weingarden, healthy lunches and snacks are prepared by volunteers for elementary-age children of families experiencing crises; the lunches are dropped off discreetly in the evening.

“It’s so important that kids have a proper lunch,” Rubin said. “If the kid’s stomach is full, his mind can concentrate in the classroom. We’re there for the success of every child.”

The teacher said her student, that first recipient of Lunches with Love, walked around the classroom clutching his “normal” lunch bag all day.

Goldstein finds her work for DCP meaningful and humbling. “When we helped set up that apartment for a new single mom, she had tears in her eyes. When we gave a bar mitzvah boy a new suit so he didn’t have to wear his neighbor’s hand-me-downs, it was so gratifying. And when a mom, who always puts her child’s needs before her own, said with joy and excitement, ‘You mean I can have new shoes, too?!’ — that was priceless,” she said.

DCP has surpassed its own expectations when the five men sat down five years ago with a vague goal of helping people. Still, there’s always talk about doing more.

“I would love for there to be no suffering, that no one should ever need us,” Eliyahu said. “But so long as there’s a need, our vision is to continue to help people in our community.”

For details, check out www.detroitchesed.org.

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