At her synagogue, Sari offers students a flame and information packets to take home to their parents. She makes clear that it's a volunteer activity, and her only request is that they return the flame if they decide not to participate. "We are committed to finding donations for all the flames we create, and that is my constant worry," Sari says. "Whether I buy an extra present out of my own pocket or use the money someone has donated for shopping, we make sure every person receives something."
Sari initially encouraged donors to buy actual items, but she realized there was a growing need in the community for basic necessities and started accepting gift cards to local drugstores, restaurants and retail chains. The organization occasionally gives gift cards for parents to shop for their kids.
Sari's plans include encouraging people to give back all year long. She frequently fields calls from folks offering donations, anything from extra TVs to party favors. Sometimes they're just sharing concern for a struggling unemployed neighbor. In the next year she hopes to launch spin-off groups like Art of Giving, where local students and adult artists decorate homeless shelters, soup kitchens and nursing homes.
But more than anything Sari likes to inspire everyone, particularly kids, to think of their own way to make a difference. She points out that anyone with a list of people in need and a handful of goodhearted family and friends can start a similar project. "We realize gifts don't make life-changing differences for the recipients," Sari says. "But the gifts do make moment-changing differences, and that's what's important."
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Originally published in the December 2012 issue of Family Circle magazine.