Sadie was happily making her seventh-birthday party plans with her family when a compassionate little switch flipped in her mind. Yes, birthday invitations had already been sent out a few weeks
prior. And, yes, parental expectations were solidifying around fun ideas that were age-appropriate, child-focused, and celebratory. But that didn’t stop Sadie from abruptly turning to her parents
and announcing with resolve, “I don't need any birthday presents. I need to do a mitzvah because that's what I learned about in Sunday school.”
Sadie’s parents were somewhat surprised, but not entirely. Sadie had already earned a reputation in her family for being a big-dreaming overachiever who was wise beyond her years. And though
Sadie announced her change of heart when she was technically just six, she is the oldest sibling, and a mature and caring sister.
Nevertheless, like any good parent, Sadie’s mom wanted to make sure her daughter had considered all aspects of her decision. “If we backpedal, and ask people to not give you gifts when they've
already asked you what you wanted,” Mom explained, “it might get confusing for them.” Sadie listened closely to the pragmatic advice, but said nothing in response, and the two left it at that.
A day or two later, the big-dreaming part of Sadie took over. “I want to do a mitzvah project!” she declared. “And I don’t just want to give something; I want to do something.” If Sadie’s parents
had any lingering questions about Sadie’s total commitment to her vision, those evaporated in that moment.
Knowing how capable their daughter was, Sadie’s parents let her lead the project—resisting the parental urge to insert themselves into the details. “This was her passion; she was the one who had
decided to do this,” Sadie’s mom said. “Naturally, my husband and I were excited—and proud too—but we knew that the more she did, herself, the more meaningful this would be for her.
Parents are parents, however, and a couple of sensible concessions were made. Mom knew Beth Kotzin, the Volunteer Programs Manager for Jewish Family Service Heldman Family Food Pantry, and she
decided to give Beth a call. When Beth learned of Sadie’s desire to do a hands-on birthday mitzvah, she was highly enthusiastic, and assured Mom that the contributions would be appreciated.
Another desire of Sadie’s was to personally stock the pantry shelves, and Beth whole-heartedly endorsed the idea.
The second concession Mom and Dad made was letting Sadie use their email. Sadie composed a message to the neighborhood—explaining how and why she was collecting food and personal care items for
the pantry. Her message included a list of the pantry’s most-needed items, which she’d received from Beth. Sadie then sent out the email to the neighbors.
“I am lucky to have the things I need or want, but not everyone is like me. It feels good to give back to people, and to make their lives easier.”
The following Saturday, Sadie and her dad hopped on bikes and started going door to door (arguably a third concession, but safety concerns prevailed). Dad had attached a large cart to the back of
his bike, so Sadie simply had to run up to each doorstep, and snatch up the items or bags that had been laid out for her. “Sadie’s email had told everyone that they would need to have their stuff
out in front of their home on Saturday, by 2:00 p.m.,” Mom said. “And it worked out perfectly. Some people even brought their donations straight to our house, which was really helpful.”
Once everything had been collected, Sadie and her dad returned home, where she carefully organized things into the categories in Beth’s list. This is when she realized that certain items—like
toothbrushes and toiletries—were ‘missing.’ It is also when the overachieving side of Sadie kicked into gear. Gathering up her birthday money, Sadie asked her parents if she could go to the store
to buy what she hadn’t managed to collect. Reflecting on this later, Sadie said, “I wanted to make sure I was helping the community by getting all the items they needed.”
Mom and Dad agreed to Sadie’s request, and when all was said and done, Sadie had collected or purchased almost 500 items for the pantry. The next step would be the most exciting part of Sadie’s
mitzvah: delivering the items to the pantry in person, and helping stack them directly onto the shelves.
As it happened, the day Sadie and her family chose to make the big delivery was the same day as the Sukkot Food Drive, which culminated at the food pantry. “We had no idea,” Mom said. “It was a
really great coincidence and Sadie was able to see, not only the benefit of her work, but also the work of the entire community.”
The experience must have exceeded Sadie’s expectations, because she immediately shared her plans to come back on a regular basis. “When she was finished, she didn’t even want to say goodbye to
Beth,” noted Sadie’s mom. “She just said, ‘I'll see you soon.’”
When asked why helping others was so important to her, Sadie thought for a moment, and then said, “I am lucky to have the things I need or want, but not everyone is like me. It feels good to give
back to people, and to make their lives easier.”