Hag Sameach program steps up big; serves more than 1,000 individuals in one of its biggest years yet

Gift program makes holidays brighter for people of all ages

With needs at an all-time high, and the extra challenge of operating while needing to follow COVID safety protocols, JFCS’ Hag Sameach program achieved what is arguably its most successful year yet in 2020!

More than 1,040 individuals received gifts this holiday season from Hag Sameach, which works with local synagogues, the Sabes JCC, PRISM and other organizations to ensure that people in our community in need of extra assistance have a resource for holiday gifts and essential items. The number of people served this year was an increase of more than 300 over 2019, which itself was an increase of more than 180 from 2018. The program keeps on growing!

“We were utterly shocked with the amazing surprise of two huge bags of Chanukah presents. It truly made our holiday. We can’t thank you enough. May you guys continue to share happiness with all the Jewish people throughout Minneapolis. Sincerely and humbly grateful for all you guys do.” – Hag Sameach recipient

Hag Sameach Coordinator Mindy Teele said that all donations, big and small, make an impact for the program’s clients. “As we inquire about what their interests are, and if they have any specific needs or accommodations, it often happens that an item that is donated is exactly what the recipient has on their wish list,” she said. 

Staff from Children’s Hospital with Hag Sameach’s gift bags

A big part of Hag Sameach is community outreach. After a successful pilot project in 2019 where we engaged with chaplains from five Hennepin County hospitals to provide gift bags for inpatients during Chanukah, this year we increased it to nine hospitals. Also, when staff heard that residents at Sholom senior community were having a difficult time with isolation due to the pandemic, we put together 321 gift bags for them that were distributed between both its campuses.

Making volunteering COVID-safe

In recognizing that we would need to adjust our volunteer opportunities for safety reasons during the pandemic, Hag Sameach opened up shifts starting in August and had people come in either alone, or with up to nine people who they already “bubbled” with, to do meaningful and essential projects for the program.

Another change for volunteers this year was that rather than having a block of all one type of shift at a time (bagging, gift wrapping), they had the option to choose one type of shift or to do a hybrid experience where they could divide their time and experience a couple of different options.

“Having this fluid experience where we had multiple opportunities happening at the same time allowed for us to be incredibly productive while maintaining safety,” Teele said.

For deliveries, Hag Sameach staff placed the gifts directly in volunteers’ car trunks without contact. In addition to providing fun snacks for them to enjoy while delivering, we also offered masks, hand sanitizer and gloves.

The owners of N’ice Caps donated more than 350 sets of outdoor winter gear to Hag Sameach after seeing a social media post asking for help.

“While there were certainly a lot of changes we needed to make this year due to the pandemic,” Teele said, “we looked at this as less of a problem and more as an opportunity to assess how the program flows. What we discovered is that some of these changes were so successful, we will be continuing with them in the future.”

For more information on the Hag Sameach program click here or call 952-546-0616.