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Mitzvah Day draws hundreds to volunteer

Projects include planting trees, serving lasagna to homeless

Good deeds were the theme of the day at the Taube Koret Center for Jewish Life on Monday (Jan. 17) as hundreds of volunteers turned out for the Palo Alto organization's fourth annual Mitzvah Day.

Jewish and non-Jewish locals as well as participants from as far away as Santa Cruz and Fremont celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and President Barack Obama's initiative to service by taking part in 27 themed volunteer projects that aimed to do "mitzvot," which program organizer Luba Palant defined as "doing good deeds for others."

Off-campus events included volunteers planting trees in alliance with environmental organization Acterra and Palo Alto Mayor Sid Espinosa at Arastradero Preserve in East Palo Alto. Volunteers also picked 1,335 pounds of fruit from local backyards to be distributed to clients of the Mountain View Community Services Agency, organizers said.

At the Taube Koret campus, activities ranged from making no-sew blankets for traumatized and ill children to cooking lasagna dinners for Maple Street Homeless Shelter clients in Redwood City. Approximately half the participants were children between pre-school age and high school age, organizers said.

"We would love for children to learn that volunteering and providing services to people is enjoyable. It's worthwhile to be part of something larger than yourself," Palant said.

Participants packed birthday baskets -- loaded with invitations, decorations and utensils -- for children at Lucille Packard Children's Hospital. Organizers said Mitzvah Day volunteering teaches children both about Jewish traditions of service and about the needs of the community around them.

At one on-campus event, Palant said participants learned why animal shelters need support before they transformed socks into cat toys and baked dog biscuits to be distributed by Palo Alto Animal Services.

"A volunteer came in to read a book about adopting animals from shelters," Palant said.

"The kids came to understand how dogs get lost or thrown out on the streets, and then they learned what shelters do. By making treats and toys, they learned (that) they themselves can help brighten these animals' lives."

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