Cesar Vasquez, Second grader at St. Thomas The Apostle
By JILL RIFKIN
ALBANY — With Thanksgiving rapidly approaching, community spirit, gratitude,and good will overflowed at Grassroot Givers’ 11th annual celebration “Day of Simple Giving,” on Saturday, Nov. 4.
More than 300 volunteers of all ages, ranging from local business people to eager preschoolers worked side by side for a common cause: giving with dignity and compassion towards those in need.
All gathered together to create and assemble beautiful gifts as well as basic necessities for hundreds of indigent Capital District residents and the numerous agencies that help them. Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy, a longtime supporter of Grassroot Givers, came by to thank the attendees.
Held at St. Sophia’s Greek Orthodox Church in Albany, the event was a colorful sight to behold, with participants directed to one of seventeen work stations. Projects included writing personalized messages, sending activity and puzzle books and packaging Chapstick to troops stationed abroad; plus baking and decorating cookies for food pantries and more.
A holiday theme was incorporated into some of the other activities, too. Volunteers wrapped pancake mix in holiday towels and crafted colorful jewelry. Packaging paper goods, and sorting donated books for Albany public school children were just some of the additional activities on hand for the day.
Members of Jack and Jill, a nationwide African American service organization founded during the Depression that encourages leadership, community involvement, and compassion towards those less fortunate, come to lend a hand at “Day of Simple Giving.”
“It doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from, or what you look like. We all must came together as a community to help each other out,” said University at Albany senior Esther Wamui, who was born in Kenya and plans to become a pediatric occupational therapist.
Working alongside participants from other organizations, they put together bagful after bagful of “Friendship Soup:” bean soup mix, each containing seven types of beans, to be distributed to local food pantries.
“I really liked adding the cotton balls to the kits to help people,” said sixth grader Nina Kozlowsky, who brought family and friends with her to Grassroot Givers to help assemble vital toiletries for homess citizens, including shampoo, hand lotion, soap and tube socks. “I added eight cotton balls to each bag.”
Grassroot Givers was founded in 2011 by Mary Partridge-Brown and Roberta Sandler, who aptly label themselves “the Queens of Repurposing.” They transformed the closed downtown YMCA’s enormous swimming pool into a free library whose low income users may take home books they select and transformed the locker room into a free community store, that’s filled with beautiful donated household goods and stylish clothing and serves 600 low income customers every month. To date, over 170,000 books have been given to people who lack them. Other projects include weekly book donations to impoverished schoolchildren, erection and restocking of 17 Little Free Libraries throughout Albany, and delivery of linens, blankets, and kitchenware to people moving from homeless shelters into their own apartments.
Church members offered Greek delicacies such as baklava, spanakopita and wedding cookies for sale, all of which were bought and prepared free of charge by church member Amy Spellos, who does this each year. “I’ve been very fortunate in my life and I try to give back. So many people are hungry and starving. This money goes back to the community.”
Cesar Vasquez, a Cub Scout in second grade at St. Thomas The Apostle School, who painstakingly strung beeds to make jewelry, thought hard before summing up the day’s theme perfectly.
“I make stuff for people who don’t have stuff, and that makes me feel so happy,” he said.