In Yiddish, it’s called “mitzvah,” a Hebrew expectation of good deeds. For the Gentiles, it’s a Christ-like desire to relieve the suffering of others.
Whether it’s done in Christian charity or by Jewish commandment, Judeo-based compassion is the key component as members of Crescenta Valley’s faith community crossed denominational borders to provide food and clothing for those less fortunate.
Area churches and synagogues have created a “mitzvah network” that’s available to people regardless of faith.
“This is about giving and sharing, it’s about living what you believe,” said Cathi Comras, a member of Glendale’s Temple Sinai congregation. “We’re reaching for that high bar; we don’t have to have the same religious background, we can work together.
“We don’t burn villages or say, ‘You’re wrong and we’re right.’ This is altruism in the highest degree. We’re not fragile in our religious beliefs, so we can learn from each other. It’s about community unity. Inclusion, not exclusion.”
After seeing the needs of the area’s diverse population and an opportunity to serve others, Comras organized a partnership between the Temple’s Clothes Closet — which provides clothing to people looking for a job or just beginning the interviewing and employment process — and the United Methodist Church of Tujunga’s Bailey Care Center, which gives food to the area’s hungry.
Comras became acquainted with the Bailey Care Center several years ago, and, she said, she fell in love with the organization.
“Their infrastructure is well-organized, efficient, dignified and friendly. Their food is available to anyone in need and they do not require specific prayers to receive their food,” she wrote in a letter to a bishop at La Crescenta’s Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints earlier this year, to enlist support from that organization.
Comras’ coalition grew to include volunteers from that church, as well as the Presbyterian Church of Shadow Hills.
Now, the four congregations work together to provide clothing and sustenance to a community of people of all religious faiths, or of no religious faith.
However, as the coalition and the community grows, and volunteers age and are able to work fewer hours, there’s still a need for more volunteers, Comras said. “We need a pair of hands. We’ll never turn away a check, but what we need right now is more volunteers to lend their hands.”
Volunteers are needed to work Monday, Wednesday and Friday at the Bailey Care Center. That’s when folks from around the community drop in for food and clothing needs.
Juanita Smith, who won’t tell her age, but said she’s “over 70,” has been receiving assistance at the care center for the past three years. Although she owns a home, she considers herself “property poor,” and needs help with food and other concerns.
Smith has had a rough life. She grew up plowing tobacco in the fields of Maryland and Virginia. She married and reared seven children, one of whom died in the Gulf War. In the past few years, she’s been beat up a few times and had run-ins with some of the area’s “seedier-types,” she said.
But, she’s grateful for the assistance she’s received at Bailey Care Center. “This group has been wonderful to me. They got me a cane when I needed one and I can come here for food and clothes. They practice what you call Christianity, but they don’t pass judgment on me. I’ve found this a beacon in the community,” she said.
Magda Martinez, 42, of Tujunga, also appreciates the care center’s presence. Martinez and her husband have two young children and have a hard time making ends meet sometimes. “I’ve come here off and on for about five years when we need help, when my husband isn’t working full-time,” she said. “This place always helps and they do good things here.”
Sue Gardner, 43, has been a volunteer at the care center for about 14 years. She and Kathy Vigil, who has been helping out for the past few months, spent a recent Friday morning passing out bags of bread and canned goods to Martinez, Smith and others who came to the center for assistance.
“It’s good when we can help people in our own community like this. You hear so much about the needs of people in downtown L.A. and how different groups are collecting for those needs, but there are people who need help right here,” Gardner said.
Vigil also is glad to be able to help out in her community. “The people are so appreciative,” she said. “And, I’m just thankful there’s something I can do.”
To help out, contact Connie Wright at (818) 248-3425.