“Young people can inspire others, just like adults can. They have a ton of power. And I think sometimes we forget how much good a single dollar can do—or a single can of soup.”
Chrissie Blatt couldn’t help but beam during a recent interview about her daughter Ella’s bat mitzvah project for Jewish Family Service: a canned soup drive to support Jewish Family Service Heldman Family Food Pantry at the Barbash Family Vital Support Center. We recently sat down with both Chrissie and Ella to discuss the project and its impact.
Take us back to where the idea for this project first came from.
Chrissie: When planning a bar or bat mitzvah, a lot of people like to put emphasis on the mitzvah project. Since we are in the midst of a challenging time with the pandemic, we tried to be creative and find a way to help others, but also have Ella find a way to connect with her friends and family, since we can’t have many at her service or party. When we were talking about mitzvah projects, I asked Ella, “What calls to you? What is a problem that you personally want to solve?”
Ella: A lot of people are losing their jobs, and some can’t afford to buy groceries right now. I felt like this was an opportunity to help in a real way, and help beyond just the Jewish community.
Where did the idea of a soup drive come from?
Chrissie: We decided on soup because, unlike a can of corn, soup is a meal. It can be lunch; it can be dinner. It’s warming, and there is a wide variety of options people can choose to donate. It’s also kind of punny. One can make a difference. It's a can; it makes a difference. It really brings attention to what we were trying to do.
What goals did you have for the project?
Ella: I told my mom I wanted to help feed at least five families.
Chrissie: As a mom, my goal was to bring her friends and family out to celebrate her since we weren't able to have a typical celebration, but also to do some good. If they brought soup, that was awesome, but I really was looking for her to connect with her people. I knew they would bring soup, but Ella and I both underestimated how much people would bring.
Ella: I didn't know that everyone from my school would come. I saw people I didn’t really know, people that I just knew from class, but didn’t talk to a lot—they all came and donated.
Chrissie: People opened their trunks and they had 10 bags of soup, that we had to get a push cart to unload. I thought people would bring a can or two—not 50! We're actually still getting deliveries of soup at our house, which we will take to JFS.
“Even when you're 12, you really can make a huge difference. It feels great. And I am always glad when we can inspire others. I told Ella that it's our job as a community to look out for each other.”
— Chrissie Blatt
Why do you think this project connected so strongly with people?
Chrissie: I think people are searching for a way to connect, and they’re really looking for someone to pull them in and tell them how they can connect.
Ella: There are so many problems right now. So many people are struggling to afford to buy groceries, and I also think there are a lot of people who are looking for ways to help.
What do you hope people will learn from Ella’s example?
Chrissie: Our theme was “one can make a difference,” and just look at Ella. She did make a difference with the support of her friends. She could have just said, “Come drive through and bring me gifts. Come say hi to me.” But by incorporating a community project, it became so much more than just a celebration.
Even when you're 12, you really can make a huge difference. I am always glad when we can inspire others. I told Ella that it's our job as a community to look out for each other, and to inspire others to do the same. Not only did she inspire her classmates, but she was able to get their parents on board, too, because at that age, the parents are the ones driving them and buying the soup.
Hopefully her friends will see her passion and want to get involved, and it will be one of those things that keeps growing. I would love to see more of our young people find something that they're passionate about and do something with it—and have them understand that their opinion matters, and their influence matters, and they can make a difference.
Ella: The butterfly effect.
You were able to provide a variety of soup options for all the individuals and families who are supported by the food pantry through the end of the winter. Your goal was to feed five families. How does that make you feel?
Ella: [mouth opened in stunned silence] I had no idea. I must've hit the spot for how others were looking to help. I knew I had a lot of people come out, but I didn’t know we were able to help that much. I’m happy it went well and feel satisfied knowing there are people who maybe wouldn’t have had something to eat that now do.
Chrissie: We can’t all knit hats for babies in the NICU. We can't all work on women's rights. We can't all work on prison reform, but if everybody has something that they're passionate about, that's how our world will heal. It's okay to not be a part of everything. It's actually better. If people are passionate about one thing and really go for it, then they will make a difference.