Students build menorah of cans for formals charity drive
Inspired by the actions of Jewish chaplaincies on other campuses across the country, Princeton’s Chabad House launched the “Giving Back at Formals” initiative by collecting more than 1,000 cans to construct a menorah, which was displayed outside Quadrangle Club during Winter Formals on Saturday. The cans will be delivered to the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen this week.
The idea behind the initiative came about when “a group of [students and faculty was] discussing how formals and Hanukkah coincide this year and how it would be really nice if Hanukkah could be celebrated at formals,” co-director of Chabad Gitty Webb said in an e-mail.
The project began in the first week of December, when student volunteers set up a table in Frist Campus Center for three hours per day. They also contacted numerous student groups and eating clubs and did “massive [amounts of] advertising,” said Jeremy Furchtgott ’12, the student leader of the effort. Furchtgott said he was flooded with requests from people wanting to volunteer.
“People e-mailed me asking to volunteer at Frist who I’d never met before, who I’d never heard of before,” Furchtgott said. Of the roughly 25 volunteers who were involved in the project, not all were associated with Chabad House. In fact, “many volunteers have never come to Chabad or aren’t Jewish. Some didn’t know what Chabad was before this,” Furchtgott said.
The outpouring of enthusiasm may be due to the minimal effort required to contribute, Webb said.
“It takes very little for each individual to be involved — only one can or one dollar — but the cumulative effect is tremendous,” Webb said. “I think that really excites people.”
But Furchtgott said he thinks the volunteers were also motivated by something deeper.
“People have a lot of opportunities to do charitable work, but there are few opportunities to volunteer for something that’s both charitable and spiritually meaningful at the same time,” he said. “[The project is] not specifically Jewish. It’s [about] the holiday season.”
Though he was personally invested in the project, Furchtgott stressed “There really is no person in charge. Its just kind of happened: People are donating, volunteering, spreading the word, e-mailing various student groups.”
“It’s like an avalanche,” he added. “[You’re] kicking a few stones, and then they move.”
Former Quad president Zackory Burns ’10 was a part of the effort from the start.
“[Rabbi Webb and I] talked about how selfish we can be sometimes, and, in light of the holiday season, we figured it would be a great way to help those who need it,” Burns said in an e-mail. “We also figured that putting the menorah on the Street would increase both giving back and Jewish identity. It was the best of both worlds.”
Besides collecting cans, Chabad and the 15 co-sponsors of the event have accepted more than $2,000 in monetary donations, allowing them to purchase 1,000 additional cans. Students continued adding to their menorah until the lighting on Saturday at 5:30 p.m. The cans and the menorah were kept at Quad throughout collection.
Creating a menorah out of cans, Webb noted, was not an original idea. Still, it carried an important message: “There is a Jewish teaching that one small light can dispel a tremendous amount of darkness,” Webb said. “Similarly, one small can donated to the hungry is worth more than just a dollar … That message [that we care] can make a real difference and light up someone’s life.”
Though the main goal was to feed the hungry, Webb had “a number of things” in mind for what she would have liked to achieve with the food drive.
“First of all, hungry people will have more to eat. Second, many students have learned that even a small donation has value. Thirdly, we will have raised awareness of the Hanukkah holiday,” she said.
Though Hanukkah may not always coincide with formals, Webb said that the Chabad House is “definitely planning to continue” the project in the future.