‘We service the entire community’: Jewish organization giving the gift of holiday cheer for those in need

The LJD Jewish Family and Community Services is making sure local children, seniors, and Holocaust survivors have what they want or need for the holiday season.

“We are a Jewish organization, but we service the entire community. We service foster children, 10 middle schools, as well as Holocaust survivors and Jewish seniors. We do approximately 2000 kids each year. And we’re very passionate about what we do,” Donna O’Steen, food programs and volunteers specialist, said.

The organization’s building is filled with toys, bikes and even school supplies for kids in need in Northeast Florida.

Volunteers take the time to look over wishlists and give the children what they want — and also things that they need.

“It means the world to me. It means that I have done my purpose in this world when I can service these kids. It’s not just me. It’s a whole team. It takes a village to do it,” O’Steen said.

A part of that village is JFCS volunteer Gayle Bailys, who said many of the kids receiving gifts also get food from them throughout the year.

“It’s an amazing feeling. To watch our caseworkers come in and say ‘great bags and we loved it’ and ‘our kids are gonna love it’ and then bring us pictures back and see the children smiling and laughing,” Bailys said.

While giving children a happy holiday is the bulk of what the organization does, it also helps more than 100 Holocaust survivors and Jewish seniors in the area.

“Many of them live at or below the poverty level here. The ones that we service, and they have to decide whether they want food each month, or they get their medication. So this month, they won’t have to do that because they’re getting a special gift of a gift card for Christmas or Hanukkah,” O’Steen said.

And while the gift cards help, Bailys says it’s the interaction with people that mean the most to them.

“They like to come out. They like to see people they like, too. They like to be seen and to talk to people. It’s an emotional, wonderful thing to do.”

To learn more about sponsoring a child or volunteering, visit JFCSJAX.org.

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