Adam Gold’s mitzvah has been bringing smiles to the faces of those celebrating birthdays, and at the same time has raised several thousand dollars for West Hartford food pantries.
By Ronni Newton
Adam Gold has also been spreading kindness this summer, and raising money for local food pantries at the same time – an idea that was sparked from a simple gesture by a relative but has turned into thousands of dollars to support two local food pantries.
Adam, a West Hartford resident who will turn 13 on Nov. 20, is preparing for his Dec. 5 Bar Mitzvah, and was looking for a mitzvah project to undertake. Projects are intended to make the world a better place, following the concept of “Tikun Olam.”
He also knew that when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and people weren’t able to have in-person celebrations, his aunt in New Jersey had acquired a set of foam core “Happy Birthday” letters and was lending them out to people to make birthdays more special.
“They were coming back damaged and she said she would set them up herself,” Adam said. His aunt was asked how much she would charge, and she decided to collect $25, and donate it to a charity.
“My dad’s birthday came around on May 9,” Adam said. Through his aunt’s connection (she had purchased multiple sets of the letters by then, initially through Amazon and then directly from the manufacturer), Adam said his mom, Monica, bought a set.
“I didn’t know the letters were coming – and I didn’t know there would be 100 cars coming up,” Lee Gold, Adam’s dad, said of his special birthday car parade.
The celebration was so uplifting, and others loved the idea as well, particularly since in-person celebrations couldn’t take place at the time.
“People that came for the drive-by were wondering if they could have them,” Adam said – and his mitzvah project was born.
He decided to charge $25 to rent the letters, with all of the money split evenly between the West Hartford Food Pantry and the Anja Rosenberg Kosher Food Pantry run by Jewish Family Services.
“Some people give $50, and one person gave $500. That was a real shocker,” Adam said.
In June he raised $1,400, and presented checks to both organizations.
Lisa Berman, the president of Jewish Family Services, told Adam when she accepted the June check that the Kosher Food Pantry feeds at least 100 families a week, and his donation would make a big difference.
“This is big,” West Hartford Food Pantry Coordinator Nancy Stockman said Friday. Adam’s efforts spark so much joy for so many people, she said, and she encouraged him to continue to encourage others to give back to the community, perhaps challenging his classmates at Kingswood Oxford to join him.
Adam usually goes to sleepaway camp for the summer, but COVID-19 squashed those plans – with the silver lining being that he is home and able to continue his mitzvah project.
By early July he already had 41 bookings scheduled for the month – and by the end of July he had raised another $1,800. On July 31, he dropped off checks for $900 to each food pantry, and said he already had $1,200 in bookings scheduled for August.
He now has three sets of “Happy Birthday” letters, and most nights they are spoken for. He’s had to turn people away.
“We got a ‘Mazel Tov’ set,” Monica Gold said, because there weren’t any more “Happy Birthday” sets available. That works for some people.
With the help of one of his parents, Adam goes out nightly to pick up the previous days messages and set up the new messages. They’ve had to dodge sprinklers, and have seen dogs and deer, but no bears.
Sometimes the lawn is so thick or the ground is hard and it’s tough to find a good place for the letters. “One time I had to put them in the mulch,” Adam said.
He’s occasionally gotten caught, including one time when the birthday girl arrived home and was so excited to find out what was going on.
Once he made a mistake in the order of the letters, but Adam said he usually tries to stack them so that it’s easy to set them up.
Along with the letters, Adam leaves a sign describing the project, in case others want to participate. The project has taken off through word of mouth, or from people who have seen posts on one of his parents’ Facebook pages.
Monica Gold said she was recently contacted by a woman from Trumbull who is looking to start a similar initiative.
In addition to his mitzvah project, Adam, a rising seventh-grader at Kingswood Oxford, is spending the summer playing baseball for the West Hartford Little League and is hoping to participate in the district travel baseball season this fall. He may take some tennis lessons as well.
Some people are now holding in-person gatherings, but that hasn’t diminished the demand for the letters as a special birthday surprise.
Adam can be reached at the email address [email protected].
Adam said he will keep renting out the letters for the rest of the summer, but is exploring turning it over to others who are looking for a mitzvah project as they prepare for their Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah.
Finding a nonprofit activity is hard for 12- and 13-year-olds, both Monica and Lee Gold said.
Another of Adam’s Hebrew school classmates at Emanuel Synagogue is selling t-shirts to benefit Feeding America (Hadley Hersh can be contacted at [email protected]) and another is collecting and making cards and joke books for people in the hospital.
“It makes me feel really happy,” Adam said of his project.
Information about accessing the Kosher Food Pantry can be found here.
Stockman said the West Hartford Food Pantry continues to be in need of staples such as canned fruit or applesauce, cereal, cans of tuna, spaghetti, pasta sauce, granola bars, toilet paper, toothpaste, and and laundry and dish detergent.
The West Hartford Food Pantry is open for curbside distribution at the front of Town Hall (near the parking lot and flags) on Tuesday from 3:30-5:30 p.m., Wednesday from 9-11 a.m., and Friday from 10 a.m.-noon. More information can be found on the website or by calling 860-561-7569.
A version of this story originally appeared in the August 2020 issue of West Hartford LIFE. To read the complete issue online, click here.
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