Crafters brighten laundry bags for campers
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Crafters brighten laundry bags for campers

The kids at Camp Happy Times in Pennsylvania needed something to take their laundry home in after a week of fun in the sun. Some of the participants in the UJA of Northern New Jersey’s annual Mitzvah Day needed an assignment. That’s how the laundry-bag project got its start in November of ‘005, and it has mushroomed ever since.

Alice Blass, Get Connected and Mitzvah Day coordinator at UJA-NNJ, explained that Jewish Community Relations Council Director Joy Kurland is a longtime friend of the director of Happy Times, a free one-week overnight camp sponsored by the Valerie Fund for children and young adults who have or have had cancer.

Displaying decorated laundry bags at the Jewish Home at Rockleigh are, back row from left, Jimmy Pinks, Alice Blass (UJA-NNJ’s Get Connected & Mitzvah Day coordinator), and Lee Kaufmann. In the front row, from left, are Jane Thurston, Sharon Masarsky, and Mary Jane Brondi.

"Joy approached her friend to see if there is something we could do for them, and she suggested making decorated laundry bags. We put out feelers to our volunteers and somebody had a friend in the business who was willing to donate ’00 bags," said Blass. "After Mitzvah Day, the project wasn’t completed, so I gave bags to others to complete. Now it’s become an annual community-wide project.

Showing decorated laundry bags are, from left, Angy Lebowitz, Alice Blass, Sonya Oshman, and Inge Silbermann. Blass is UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey’s Get Connected & Mitzvah Day coordinator. The others are residents of Jewish Home Assisted Living/Kaplen Family Senior Residence in River Vale.

This summer, each of the ’00 Happy Times campers will find cheerily ornamented laundry bags at the foot of their beds — the result of efforts by volunteers from Gerrard Berman Solomon Schechter Day School in Oakland, Yavneh Academy in Paramus, Park Academy in River Edge, the Jewish Home at Rockleigh, the Jewish Home Assisted Living/Kaplen Family Senior Residence in River Vale, Prospect Heights Care Center in Hackensack, and families from Woodcliff Lake, Closter, Hillsdale, and Tenafly.

"Everything we give our campers is something very special and is free of charge," said camp director Millie Finkel. "Many of our children come from difficult backgrounds, from inner-city homes, and they don’t have much. This is something they can take home."

Finkel noted that Happy Times gets donations of everything from bathing suits to disposable cameras to school supplies, some of them courtesy of the National Council of Jewish Women. "Anything the campers get, they’re very excited to have."

But it seems that the volunteers are just as excited.

"We have a lot of residents who were volunteers in the past and have a strong association with that life role," said Charlene Vannucci, recreation and volunteer coordinator at the Jewish Home at Rockleigh. "It’s important for us to provide them with opportunities to continue helping others."

Vannucci broached the laundry-bag idea with the residents’ council earlier this year, following a phone call from Blass. "A project to benefit children very much appealed to our senior population," she said, adding that residents often stage fund-raisers for a variety of causes.

About ‘0 residents participated, using foam cutouts and fabric paint to jazz up close to 50 brightly colored laundry bags — some specifically intended for boys and some for girls. "Everything should be great about this camp, even what they use to put laundry into," said Vernucci.

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