Brooklyn College students and staff found various ways to give back to their community during the Thanksgiving break.

Tanger Hillel at Brooklyn College takes great pride in helping the community, especially during the holiday season. For decades, the organization has opened its doors and served home-cooked meals to scores of people in need during the Thanksgiving holiday, and the tradition has become one of its signature events. This year, the COVID-19 pandemic made Tanger Hillel’s work even more impactful.

Over the years, Tanger Hillel has coordinated and planned large dinners for people in need at its center on Campus Road, typically serving well over 200 people each year. In 2019, more than 200 volunteers assisted with the effort.  This year, it partnered with a local food bank, Met Council, and held an event on November 25 at Met Council’s Fulfillment Center in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

The food was packaged and delivered through a partnership with Uber Eats and local livery companies to offer a safe, in-person volunteering event where students selected a shift that worked for them and packaged Thanksgiving meals for New Yorkers in need. Approximately 60 volunteers helped with the effort.

Yelena Azriyel, Tanger Hillel’s assistant director, said the COVID-19 pandemic has forced them to change their philanthropic efforts for safety reasons, but it hasn’t stopped them.

Tanger Hillel followed CDC guidelines to host a coat drive November 22. They partnered with various clubs on campus, including the Public Health and Medicine Club, Biology Club, Community Health Associated Initiatives Club, and Uzbek Society. All coats and winter clothing were donated on November 24 to a local homeless shelter with which they have a long-standing partnership. Twenty-three students volunteered their time to organize and coordinate the drive, and they collected more than 70 coats and other winter clothing items.

“Volunteering is one of the five core values here at Tanger Hillel. It is a value that is embedded into our DNA,” Azriyel said. “We offer an array of volunteering opportunities for our students to partake in, and we encourage and guide our constituents to spearhead and take the lead on volunteer initiatives.”

Other efforts during this difficult time included partnering with a local synagogue to provide food packages to families in need in a safe, COVID-secure environment. Volunteers were also able to partner with Masbia Soup Kitchen Network and assisted with packaging and distributing meals to communities of all walks of life, cultures, and religions in the Brooklyn area.

“We at Tanger Hillel understood that many students are not able to volunteer in person; that is why we offered a volunteering hybrid program that also allowed our constituents to volunteer virtually,” Azriyel said. “Starting this fall, students have signed up for our Senior Call Bank, where they can connect over the phone with isolated seniors to check in, offer technical support and guidance, and simply be a listening ear. We also have worked with local organizations to assess community needs and mobilized the students to volunteer and address them.”

Not to be outdone, members of Student Activities teamed up with the Brooklyn College Food Pantry to distribute Thanksgiving turkeys to 29 students on November 23 as part of their annual commitment to give back around the holidays. Some students also received grocery gift cards.