“For there will never cease to be needy ones in your land, which is why I command you: open your hand to the poor and needy kinsman in your land.”
Back to school shopping is different this year. Backpacks and lunch bags are displayed next to items like headphones and whiteboards for virtual instruction. No matter how or where the children in your life will learn this year, they will need supplies, and those supplies are costly.
Over the last five months, our country has experienced a dramatic economic change due to COVID-19. I have shared previously how this unprecedented crisis has impacted food security, a basic human need. But people, especially children, need more than food and shelter to thrive. How are we helping vulnerable children in our community obtain the tools they need for learning? This year, more than any other, this question impacts increased numbers of children and their families, as parents deal with job loss, income reduction, and huge adjustments to the work-life balance.
This week’s Torah portion, Re’eh, includes instructions for how we should treat people in our communities, whether they are within our immediate networks or beyond. We are commanded to ensure that all who are in our midst have enough to live and thrive. This moral imperative seems unattainable, and how more so at this difficult time. No matter what we do, no matter how dedicated we are to our faith and our community, there will always be people who will need support. There will always be people who fall into a hard situation, experience an emergency that impacts their way of living, or simply need care that is beyond their needs. The verse cited above also carries the subtext that we do not know who will need support in the future. It could very well be us or our loved ones.
Typically, there are many ways to support needy children in our schools. In past years, this meant buying an extra notebook or box of crayons to donate to a school supply drive, volunteering to tutor or to participate in literacy programs, and mentoring high schoolers, as but a few examples. This year, we must help from a safe distance. Organizations like Identity Inc, a non-profit that serves more than 2600 youth and their families in Montgomery County, are filling backpacks with essential items like pens, notebooks, and noise-cancelling headphones to block out distractions at home. Many faith communities are continuing to hold school supply drives while complying with COVID-19 safety rules, and they are exploring creative ways to help working parents with childcare and to otherwise support children as they navigate the challenges of online instruction.
It will take our entire “village” to ensure that the most vulnerable children in our community do not fall through the cracks during this time of forced distance learning. In coming weeks the JCRC will be sharing a range of advocacy and volunteer opportunities that will allow us to continue to the sacred work of fulfilling Re’eh’s directive to treat with compassion and empathy those who are the most needy in our midst.