Tikkun olam (repairing the world) is an age-old Jewish value that teaches responsibility for the world around us. Each year, students at Portland Jewish Academy learn about local and global needs and how they can “Work for the World” by making a difference in these communities.
In past years, PJA students have served meals to the hungry at Blanchet House, a nonprofit social services organization located in downtown Portland that provides food, clothing and housing programs to people in need. This year, COVID restrictions have made that impossible, but eighth-grader Gautam Josse has found a way to help.
In the following interview, Gautam shares details of his effort.
What you are doing for Blanchet House these days?
I pack sack lunches with things like sandwiches and a bag of chips and a banana. Usually takes an hour to make 50 sandwiches, then packing them with the other snacks. I splatter paint on the bags and write a little note on the back of them.
What inspired you to take on this project?
I just like to give back to my community and make changes.
What has been the best part of doing this work?
I like to think of how people will get to eat, and not starve.
What has been the biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge was getting a sponsor to give me the bananas, bread, jam, peanut butter. I made several phone calls, but in the end, I finally got a person willing to help me out. It was Natural Grocers. They helped me out and supplied me with materials to feed people.
What are some other projects you have done over the years?
I have gone to a boot camp and met many great people who have had the opportunity to help out the world. The boot camp is called Ocean Heroes. It usually is a weekend, and last year I went to British Columbia for it. I am also working on a campaign to get rid of plastic straws in Hillsboro.
What advice would you give someone your age or younger who is looking for meaningful volunteer work?
I would advise to always work hard. I have been doing it and people have been recognizing me for my campaign. I would say you would need time and to not give up. It took a lot of drafts and trials and errors to get to where I am. Anyone can make a change. I can, why can’t you?