And, he noted, the real payoff comes when just $18 raised through Ride to Fight Hunger can feed a family for a whole day.
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David Feuerstein sends off cyclists participating in the Ride to Fight Hunger.

With nearly 400 participants providing both pedal and foot power, the Jewish Family Service of Bergen and North Hudson raised more than $125,000 on Sunday from its Ride to Fight Hunger to keep its Meals on Wheels programs funded and flourishing.

Participants gathered at the Jewish Home at Rockleigh to bicycle three, 10, 25, or 50 miles, or to participate in a 5K walk. Families and individuals willingly gave up part of Father’s Day to help assure continued support for a program that provides 25,000 meals annually for families in need, regardless of ethnicity, religion, or nation of origin.

Jeff Nadler, JFS’s director of development, called the ride an unqualified success. “What a day,” he said. “After months of planning and hard work, we were rewarded with wonderful weather and a tremendous outpouring of support from the community.”

He said the number of participants and the total raised exceeded expectations by more than 25 percent. In just three years since its inception, Ride to Fight has generated $250,00 in donations. “It was amazing to see hundreds of riders and donors give of themselves to support the work JFS does to help families,” he said.

Nadler and his Ride to Fight Hunger organizers took only a brief breather before looking ahead to next year. On Wednesday, they held a debriefing session and sought input on ways to make the 2014 fundraiser even more effective.

The inspiration for the event originated with David Feuerstein of Alpine, 18, who just graduated from the Horace Mann School in Riverdale, N.Y., and soon will be a freshman at Cornell.

Feuerstein’s impulse toward tikkun olam dates from his bar mitzvah. Instead of accepting gifts he asked guests for donations; he gave the entire sum he received, $31,000, to JFS, while retaining control over its distribution. JFS’s executive director, Lisa Fedder, would offer him difficult choices about where the money should be used. The requests could be as varied as a patient requiring surgery; a poor child who would benefit from a camp scholarship, or a tenant who needed help paying the rent. “There was no end to the need, especially in a troubled economy,” Feuerstein said. “It is so hard to say no.”

The fund was depleted in a few years.

But before that, Feuerstein found his focus. His mother, Shira, is a volunteer for Meals on Wheels and he had accompanied her on deliveries. He decided to concentrate his efforts on providing food to hungry people in Bergen County.

When Meals on Wheels encountered a funding crisis three years ago, Feuerstein, an avid cyclist, suggested the Ride to Fight Hunger. From 150 participants the first year, the activity has grown exponentially.

Feuerstein, who earlier this month received a New Jersey State Governor’s Jefferson Award for Youth in Service, will major in hospitality and hotel management at Cornell. Even though he will be on campus in Ithaca, N.Y., his thoughts and heart will remain with the Ride to Fight Hunger and how to make it even better.

This year, Feuerstein was gratified by the rise in the number of teen volunteers. He cited 13-year-old Heather Young, who raised $2,300 through her “Together with Heather” team, who sported purple T-shirts.

“She was smiling the whole way,” Feuerstein said.

“We want this to grow as a great fun day with possibly more arts and crafts and on-site activities,” he added. “We are incredibly appreciative that so many gave up part of their Father’s Day to make this a success.”