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Teens Don’t Let COVID Stop Them from Making a Difference this Thanksgiving

Teens drop off the finished pies. Courtesy photo

JTConnect typically holds a pie-baking event in West Hartford on the Sunday before Thanksgiving – but this year the event took place on Zoom, with the pies dropped off for delivery once they were ready.

JTConnect pie baking via Zoom. Courtesy image

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Thanksgiving is a time for families and friends to gather and celebrate the bounty of the season, but for many in Connecticut, the holiday is a stark reminder of their struggle with hunger. Especially this year when families are struggling from unemployment and furlough, more people are in need of a helping hand.

“For years our teens have been coming together on the Sunday before Thanksgiving for a mega pie-baking event,” said Cara Levine, program director at JTConnect. “Tables and tables of teens come together to mix ingredients and bake pies. It’s really special to see so many teens committed to giving back.”

However, COVID put a damper on this year’s baking. It just wasn’t feasible to bring so many teens together in one space to bake. The project would have been canceled this year if it wasn’t for a group of determined JTConnect teens who believed that now more than ever we need to work to make a difference in our community.

Baking pies at home. Courtesy photo

On Sunday more than 80 local teens and volunteers logged onto Zoom and spent the afternoon baking pies with their friends. In the end, over 170 pies were baked and donated to nine different charities. The pies were all dropped off at meeting points in West Hartford, Simsbury, and South Windsor, and a team of volunteers delivered them to the different organizations.

For Sophie Kudler (Hall ‘22), “It feels amazing to help others while also having fun and seeing my friends. My favorite part of the event is making the pies, even though we sometimes make a mess! It is so meaningful to bake something that you know will directly make someone happy.”

Finished pies. Courtesy photo

To put the baking into perspective, a speaker from Hands on Hartford’s Faces of Homelessness program shared his personal account of homelessness and hunger with the teens over Zoom as they baked. He encouraged the teens to remember that “people who are homeless are people. It is really important to remember that. They all didn’t start that way. They have families. No matter the situation, they’re still human beings. … We have to validate their humanity. … I’m a person. It happened to me.”

In addition to the pie baking, a group of JTConnect and Young Israel teens spent a few hours on Sunday morning volunteering at Jewish Family Service’s (JFS) annual Thanksgiving meals and clothing distribution. JFS distributed more than 200 holiday meals for their clients and families as well as hundreds of bags with winter clothing. It was a momentous operation managed by JFS, and teens helped hand out donations and direct traffic. Last week, a different group of JTConnect teens sorted the mounds of food that the Mandell JCC had collected for distribution by JFS.

JFS Thanksgiving food drive. Courtesy photo

“It takes a village,” said Eric Maurer, Executive Director of JTConnect. “It is incredible to see organizations coming together in the spirit of giving. I have been inspired to see so many teens putting Jewish values to action like this. COVID has been especially hard on teenagers as they manage hybrid schedules at school, cancellation of events and sports seasons and the loss of social interaction. It is so inspiring that despite all the stresses they are going through, teens stay committed to giving back in a big way.”

These teen volunteering projects were organized through JTConnect with support from the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford. JTConnect engages teens from across the Greater Hartford community in fun, interactive and thought-provoking educational and social experiences grounded in Jewish learning and values. JTConnect gives teens the opportunity to continue their Jewish education in compelling and meaningful ways. Together, teens examine religion, history and traditions through innovative, hands-on programming that includes classroom study, volunteer projects and special events.

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