- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 26, 2001

Hunger and poverty do not know dates, and for them Dec. 25 might as well be any other day.
But yesterday, while Christians were celebrating the birth of Christ, more than 1,000 volunteers from the D.C. Jewish Community Center (DCJCC) spent much of the day helping those less fortunate.
"As Jews, traditionally we go to movies and eat Chinese food, and that's nice," said Michael Richards of Takoma Park."But we wanted to do something different, and this was a great opportunity for us to give our children a sense of what community service is all about."
Mr. Richards and his family spent the day giving toys to children who otherwise may not have received gifts.
"There were lots of hugs and lots of thank yous," said Pamela Fields, Mr. Richards' wife. "Christmas does not mean anything to me, but it is so nice to give these people something meaningful."
For the past 15 years, the DCJCC has sponsored the December 25th Community Services Project.
What started as a small, 75-person, one-day-a-year operation, has evolved into a community-service department with programs throughout the year.
On Christmas Day, volunteers go to sites around the city, including soup kitchens, hospitals, nursing homes and family centers. They also donate blood as a part of a blood drive in the DCJCC gym.
"I am fed up with the commercialism and wanted to do something different instead of sitting around gloating over gifts that I did not need," said Teresa Fryberger, a Christian, after donating blood.
Marlene Sandhu, coordinator for the project, said that in light of the events of September 11, this year's activities took on special meaning.
"If you bring people around through service and have them interact with one another on a human level, maybe we can make a difference," Mrs. Sandhu said.
More than 60 social services agencies took part in the activities, and volunteers sang Christmas carols, played games, distributed food and dressed as Santa Clauses.
Gerson Panitch is an Orthodox Jew and a member of Temple Beth Sholom in Potomac.
A patent lawyer by day, he is the original Santa for the DCJCC, and has been donning the red suit on Christmas for the past 11 years. Like many of the volunteers, Mr. Panitch said the best part of the day are the faces of those with whom he interacts.
"We go through depressed neighborhoods and just start giving out toys, and these kids are so excited to see Santa coming down the street," Mr. Panitch said. "For many, this is the only present they will get."
At Change Inc., a family-services center in Mount Pleasant, Santa made two stops to distribute toys, games and jewelry to families.
For Tuan Phan, 7, coming to the center has become a holiday and birthday tradition. Tuan's birthday is Dec. 25, and his five brothers and sisters have come to the center in recent years. Hoping for a tow truck, Tuan enjoyed drawing with the DCJCC volunteers as he awaited Santa's arrival. Later, he joined in a chorus of "Jingle Bells."
"It makes me feel happy to be here when I see the expressions on the kids' faces, especially the kids in need, because it really breaks my heart that they might not have anything else," said David Follick of Silver Spring after playing with Tuan and his older sister, Kim.
The DCJCC began working with Change Inc. in the early 1990s, and its involvement makes all the difference in the lives of the families served there, said Vila Brown, director of human services.
"They are the nicest people, and every year they come and just bring the biggest smiles to the children's faces," Mrs. Brown said.

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