Operation Backpack was a success.
In 25 years, the Jewish Federation of Volusia and Flagler Counties have put 124,761 backpacks in the hands of children.
Despite the difficulties of running a nonprofit during a pandemic, 2020 was no exception. Thanks to donors and volunteers, the Jewish Federation's supplier was able to distribute 7,400 backpacks full of school supplies to local schools. It was an endeavor that Executive Director Gloria Max said she was nervous about.
A month ago, the Jewish Federation was $36,000 short of its fundraising goal needed for Operation Backpack. Instead of giving up, Max got to work. She made phone calls and spoke on the radio, and the donations came in just in time.
“To me it’s very important that kids have the tools to do well in school," Max said. "It’s so important, because if you don’t have them, you can’t do it.”
A constant helping hand
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Max said the number of families in need of food has multiplied as people were furloughed or lost their jobs entirely.
At the end of March and early April, the Jewish Federation's Jerry Doliner Food Bank was one of the few that remained open in the community, Max said. Many of the packing volunteers had compromised immune systems and couldn't come in to help, so she spent around 16 hours a day packing food. Her son would come in after his job to help, and they wouldn't leave until 11 p.m.
“We gave out food to everybody that requested, and it was a lot of people," Max said.
The Jewish Federation also had to deal with a higher cost of food, as grocery stores were no longer offering buy one, get one free purchases for the food bank and Second Harvest was also struggling with getting food.
Max said she realized that if parents didn't have money to feed their children, in turn, they likely wouldn't have money for school supplies. Every May, she calls 83 school counselors and asks how many backpacks they need. It's a big project, she said.
The Jewish Federation also helps out in times of disaster, and like its other programs, 100% of the funds raised go to helping people of all races and religious backgrounds, as the nonprofit absorbs all administrative costs. In wake of the damage caused by Hurricane Laura in Louisiana and Texas, Max is hoping to collect donations to send directly to people in need, connections made possible by the Jewish Federation contacting local religious institutions.
Max asked that anyone interested in helping send a check to the Jewish Federation of Volusia and Flagler Counties, located at 470 Adalusia Ave., Ormond Beach, 32174. Hurricane Laura should be written as a memo on the check to earmark those funds.
Many in Max's shoes might have taken the risks of the pandemic as a sign to stay home. She was first diagnosed with cancer in 2015, and Max said if she got COVID-19, it would be a death sentence because of her weak immune system.
One time, she answered the phone and a woman told her she was sorry she had died. Once the woman realized it was Max on the phone, Mac said she could hear in the woman's voice that she was embarrassed.
“I said, ‘That’s alright. I did go upstairs but they told me to go back down because I had more work to do.’" Max recalled. "So I made her feel better by doing that.”
Max's initial cancer diagnosis wasn't good. She said she's supposed to have died already, but believes that the community's prayers and her work with the Jewish Federation has spared her.
"I think that’s why I’m alive," Max said. "It’s my mission to do this — to help the community.