NCJW personal shopper and volunteer Susan Friedman with student Paradyse Brandon prior to the pandemic.
NCJW personal shopper and volunteer Susan Friedman with student Paradyse Brandon prior to the pandemic. (NCJW)

National Council of Jewish Women faced challenges and created opportunities during the pandemic.

This has been a year like no other in the 130-year history of National Council of Jewish Women, Michigan (NCJW|MI), and it is one we will never forget.

NCJW|MI is a grassroots organization of volunteers and advocates who turn progressive ideas into action. Inspired by Jewish values, NCJW strives for social justice by improving the quality of life for women, children and families, and by safeguarding individual rights and freedoms.

Amy Cutler
Amy Cutler

This mission statement has been the guiding principle of NCJW|MI (formerly known as the Greater Detroit Section) for over a century. Beginning in 1891, when Rabbi Louis Grossman of Temple Beth El called on the women of the community to form a Jewish Women’s Club to “better the conditions of girls, and women, to promote friendly fellowship and mutual helpfulness among Jewish women of Detroit, to elevate their mental, moral and social status, and to foster cultivating influences of Jewish women.” NCJW | MI has been working to achieve these goals ever since.

It has been a year of challenges and opportunities. The challenges were many. How do we provide meals to more than double the number of Kosher Meals on Wheels participants we had pre-pandemic as the need for delivered food amongst vulnerable elderly people increased? How do we open our resale store Council Re|Sale (3297 W. 12 Mile Road, Berkley), one of the oldest resale shops in Metro Detroit, safely for staff, customers and donors after being closed for nearly four months? 

How do we close our office and work remotely and provide the opportunity for our members to meet virtually, when they previously had never used Zoom? How do we fundraise and offer programs since we could not meet in person? How do we ensure that our community gets out to vote? These are just a few of the questions the NCJW|MI staff and Board of Directors had to answer.

Pandemic Challenges

Zoom became second nature. We offered programs that attracted three times the number of participants that usually attend. We developed a Patron Campaign which replaced several of our canceled fundraisers and, with the support of our members, succeeded in our goal. Volunteers came out of the woodwork to volunteer to pack meals and deliver meals to those in need. Our staff did not miss a beat in transitioning to work remotely to ensure our NCJW|MI work continued.

Council Re|Sale received more donations than ever as people were at home cleaning out their closets. We had to obtain two pods to keep in the parking lot to hold the donations. Our shoppers returned and special sales were offered, while we adopted a strict safety protocol including limiting customers to 10 in the shop, hand sanitizer stations and social distancing measures. 

JVS Human Services and Council Re|Sale collaborated at the end of April 2021 on a Zoom program for those interviewing for a new job and in need of appropriate clothing. Zoom classes will also soon be offered to entice people to come shop at our store. 

Our Get Out the Vote campaign was a success and involved many volunteers. During the election season, we also ran several voter information programs where participants could hear from local candidates.

Helping children in our community has been a fundamental tenet of our organization. In previous years, our staff and volunteers have held an all-day event in Detroit every August called “Back 2 School Store”. Low-income children were provided with a personal shopper to choose clothing and school supplies to help them start their school year right. This year, shopping with 600 children and hundreds of volunteers was not feasible, so we developed a modified version with area agencies being provided with clothing and supplies to distribute to children in need. 

Similarly, our Backpack Project, which provides backpacks and school supplies to needy children in Oakland County, was modified. This past January, we developed “Wrapped in Warmth” to provide children with warm coats; we had a drive-thru event where coats and mittens were provided to more than 20 human service agencies working with children in need.

Together with our community volunteers and staff, we made this all happen. Working in collaboration with our other Jewish communal agencies, we ensured that people in need received what they needed to get through this pandemic. 

It “takes a village” and together we made a difference. We turned our challenges into opportunities, and we thank everyone who has been involved. As long as there is a need, volunteers will continue to deliver support and services to fulfill the mission of National Council of Jewish Women. We invite all community members to join us in our endeavors. 

Amy Cutler is president of NCJW|MI. This essay first appeared on myjewishdetroit.org.