Thousands of needy and homeless residents in Cincinnati got a respite from bitter temperatures recently with the help of the Hillel Jewish Student Center of Cincinnati's annual Operation Warm-Up program. A record number of students from the University of Cincinnati and other local campuses united to distribute 8,000 bags containing food, clothing, toiletries and blankets to those in need.
From organizing the donated goods to assembling the packages and loading up two vans, more than 250 Jewish and non-Jewish students were part of the massive volunteer effort over a two-day period. After assembly was complete, Cincinnati Hillel Program Associate Jessica Segal led more than 30 students to the city's lower-income neighborhoods to hand out the bags to people on the street.
"By and large, everybody was very appreciative. It brought a whole new meaning to the phrase 'drive by,'" Segal said. "Students were a little apprehensive at the beginning, but I think everyone who went had a good experience, met nice people and broke down some stereotypes."
Operation Warm-Up began 10 years ago, when a student approached Cincinnati Hillel Executive Director Rabbi Abie Ingber about distributing supplies to the less fortunate in the greater Cincinnati area "to give them a little boost," according to Segal. The program got off to a modest start with 150 bags of food donated by local supporters and corporations, but it has grown exponentially since then, with many non-Jewish students joining in the effort to collect, package and distribute the bags.
"We definitely encourage Jewish students to participate, but we really did have students from every walk of life on campus," Segal said. "We think there's a lot of value in an African-American student standing next to a Greek student standing next to a Jewish student and talking with people they may have never met before."
"It was one of the most amazing experiences I've had at UC," Mitchel Livingston, the University of Cincinnati's vice president of student affairs and services, told the News Record student newspaper. "There was every type of student imaginable."
The program also helps Cincinnati Hillel foster an image of being welcoming and open to the entire campus community, she added.
"It's wonderful that all these students came into Hillel and had a positive experience, and now when they pass by, it's not just 'that Jewish place' to them anymore," Segal said.