As the co-owner of American Construction, which specializes in residential roofing, siding, and windows, Cherry Hill resident Chris Bruner focuses on getting the job done “the right way, the first time.” This credo applies not only to his work, but also to his family life and serving the larger community. Which is why, when COVID-19 hit South Jersey, Bruner, along with wife Jessica, business partner Greg Dobkin, and Dobkin’s wife, Molly, mobilized to help those hit hardest by the pandemic.
“When COVID broke out, it was pandemonium,” Bruner said. “No one knew what was going to happen next. What we heard from friends and neighbors was total panic.”Realizing quickly that their business would have to shut down for the most part, the Bruners and Dobkins decided to put their energy to good use. “We were sitting around my living room and said, ‘Rather than just get negative about the end of the world coming, what can we try to do to help out?’” Bruner recalled.
Terri Heimann Oppenheimer’s response to the mask shortage made headlines back in March, when, inspired by a segment on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” she spearheaded an international team of over 100 “makers” via Facebook to handsew masks for distribution at Virtua, Lions Gate, the City of Camden, and the National Guard. “We will be doing this indefinitely,” she said at the time. “As long as there’s a need and we have materials, we’ll do it.”
As the pandemic continued, Oppenheimer rallied sewing experts to create and donate masks free of charge to those in need of them—particularly vulnerable populations like the elderly and infirm, such as those served by Aleph Home Care and Day Center.
“I’m a firm believer that if you start charity at home and you build upon yourself, you can help your community expand,” said Alison Bell Keim, Grants chair of the Jewish Federation’s Jewish Women’s Foundation (JWF). With this philosophy in mind, Keim and Lynn Branfman, chair of the JWF, spearheaded an unprecedented move to shift all JWF giving from widespread grants entirely to Jewish Federation’s COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund.
“In better times, our mission is to make grants available to nonprofit organizations, both locally and abroad, that benefit those who identify as Jewish women and girls,”Branfman explained. These grants have included funds to family members who are caregivers and couldn’t pay for assistance to receive respite via Aleph Home Care. In Israel, JWF has funded resources for nursing students of Ethiopian Jewish descent who couldn’t afford basic necessities. “Our assistance helped these women to complete nursing school and obtain better work and economic opportunities,” said Branfman. JWF also gives grants to local synagogues and agencies for programming related to women and girls.
For years, BookMates, a program of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Southern New Jersey, has offered children in disadvantaged communities like Camden the opportunity to engage with and develop a love for literature in warm, one-on-one settings. BookMates volunteers visit schools for read-alouds and quality time with over 600 students yearly, setting the foundation for academic success.
With the shutdown of schools and social distancing measures put in place, these impactful visits could no longer continue. Undeterred, BookMates co-founder Judy Nadell took to technology, recording read-alouds in her home to be shown through school websites, on YouTube, and on the BookMates web page.
With her business, Wow Custom Apparel, Cherry Hill resident Traci Miller was busy making customized bar- and bat-mitzvah sweatshirts and favors before the onset of coronavirus. Now, she said, the business “dead-ended.” While considering the next step, the idea came to Miller to begin customizing facemasks with catchy phrases. Her first batch sold quickly, and instead of holding onto the proceeds for the business, Miller donated them to The Betsy and Peter Fischer Food Pantry run by Jewish Family and Children’s Service (JFCS), an agency of the Jewish Federation.