It started with a sprinkle.
As the pandemic devastated everyday life last winter, a family could add its address to a neighborhood Facebook group and then wait to get “sprinkled.” Someone would randomly place a bit of kindness outside a front door. Maybe it was a small plant with a painted rock that said “Love Grows Here,” or a bouquet of flowers with perfumed soap. Toys for children might mysteriously arrive. “It felt so good,” recalls West Lampeter resident Gina Krouse, who received gifts and later joined in distributing them. As spring brought warmer weather, though, sprinkles tapered off when families could again go outside.
The idea, however, captivated Krouse, who recruited friend Gena Harting of Strasburg. Why not turn sprinkles into a gift basket that could go to anyone suffering from COVID-19 or any kind of ailment? Why not expand to other charitable acts, such as hosting a blood drive or picking up trash near the Susquehanna River? Why not ask people to join an organization that focuses on doing good deeds and teaching kindness to children?
“So many people are struggling mentally and physically,” Krouse said. Thus, Mitzvah Moms was born.
The women reached out to two more Strasburg friends — Liz Lau and Heather Reynolds — to lead an organization that focuses on mitzvahs, which means good deeds in Hebrew. Krause and Harting are Jewish, Lau and Reynolds are Christian, and the group welcomes all faiths. Reynolds handles the group’s public relations, and Lau helps direct volunteers.
Good deeds, for people of all faiths
Harting and Krouse worship at Congregation Shaarai Shomayim, a Lancaster reform synagogue that partners with Mitzvah Moms. “They certainly picked up on a great project,” Rabbi Jack Paskoff said. “We want mitzvahs to be a part of our everyday routine.” Just because the word is Hebrew doesn’t mean good deeds are restricted to Jews, he noted.
First Presbyterian Church of Strasburg also supports Mitzvah Moms. Reynolds teaches preschool and Lau is a member. “I was thrilled” to participate, said the Rev. Bob Bronkema, the church’s pastor. “Churches can learn from getting involved with the society around them. We should be able to partner with other religions. I thought it was an amazing opportunity to get involved with a local group.”
Shaarai Shomayim included Mitzvah Moms during a recent virtual charity day that encouraged congregants to create baskets in their homes. First Presbyterian featured a Mitzvah Moms presentation and provides links to the organization from its website.
The charity, which started about four months ago, now boasts more than 160 members. Some of them gathered recently on the banks of the Susquehanna River in Columbia. Moms, dad and kids moved purposely around the area as a gentle breeze blew across the calm blue water. Armed with large white bags, volunteers searched for debris as part of a clean-up effort celebrating Earth Day. Lampeter resident Jenn Monk came with son Bradley, not only to rid the area of trash but to give back to a charity that lifted her family’s spirits after a serious medical diagnosis.
“For someone to think of us was really overwhelming,” she said. As a nurse, Monk expected her 8-year-old son’s diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes in February. She knew the symptoms. What surprised her, though, was the large basket waiting on her front porch when the family returned from a Philadelphia hospital. “It was so unexpected,” she said.
While Bradley appreciated the pens with fuzzy pompoms and the blanket included in a basket packed with snacks, journals and inspirational messages, Monk was inspired by the idea and called Mitzvah Moms to thank the founders and offer to volunteer.
“You’re delivering something that will lift a stranger’s spirit,” Lau said. She and daughters Farah, 4, and Fiona, 8, pick up baskets from Krause’s home and deliver them all over the county. “I’m a breast cancer survivor,” Lau explained, recalling the meals and support she received when she was diagnosed. “I was searching for a way to give back.”
Leading by example
The four organizers were also looking for a way to model charitable values for their children. “So much of what kids learn is disconnected,” Paskoff said. While classroom lessons have value, hands-on experience provides meaningful living, he said.
Harting agreed. “I think children learn best through experience,” she said, recalling lessons from her own childhood to give back to the community and to donate to charities. “I wanted to instill the same lesson for my son, but I wanted to do it in a different way.” Ryder, 7, helped paint the lemonade and ice pop stand Mitzvah Moms uses to sell treats that raise money.
Krause’s three children participate in the charity, even if William, 3, only understands that he chooses a toy to give to someone else. Josiah, 5, now notices when community members need help. He insisted Mitzvah Moms deliver a basket to his teacher’s sister after learning the woman underwent surgery. Elaine, 7, came up with the idea for the lemonade and ice pop stand. Elaine “is learning about how struggles vary from person to person and is seeing firsthand how the community helps lift up each other and supports one another,” Krause said.
Lau agreed. “Since we joined Mitzvah Moms, my daughters have displayed a greater sense of empathy and a desire to help others,” she said.
Heather Reynolds teaches son Tate, 9, to treat others as he wants to be treated. The Golden Rule, however, seems too broad at times. “Mitzvah Moms helped us narrow our focus,” she said, explaining that Tate, who loves art class, relishes making get-well cards for basket recipients.
The charity has delivered about 300 baskets, and leaders are looking for other ways to help the community. In addition to collecting trash, Mitzvah Moms will partner with the Red Cross to host a blood drive in July. Meanwhile, volunteers set up the lemonade and ice pop stand at neighborhood events. A Facebook page includes a wish list, or those interested can access one on Amazon. Krause said she constantly receives random Amazon deliveries and stores blankets, lotions, peppermint tea and other feel-good gifts in her basement.
“The volunteers and the donations have been amazing,” Harting said. A website allows anyone to nominate a basket recipient.
“We have been truly blessed,” Krause said. “God is running this.”