On Sunday, May 17th, at an Engage volunteer brunch held at a synagogue in Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood, I learned a few interesting facts.

The first speaker, Abigail Pick, of UJA-Federation of New York, detailed the surprising pockets of poverty in the New York area, noting that over half a million Jews in the New York area live in or near povertymore than twice as many in this category as there were in 1991. These households include many Russian emigrés, Chassidic families, those with dependents who are disabled, and/or those with limited education.

Kathryn Haslanger, chief executive officer for UJA/JASA Programs, spoke about the services available to assist those in poverty by addressing issues of housing, home care, meals, and governmental benefits. Additional programs assist a whole range of seniors with group activities, wellness, and case management, as well as a robust emergency response program set up in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

Most importantly, I learned how volunteers are critically needed to help meet these growing needs in the local Jewish community and beyond. Toward this goal, UJA-Federation of New York generously supports Engage Jewish Service Corps. The vision is a group of committed and educated Jewish volunteers in their 50s, 60s, and beyond, empowered to address the needs of the Jewish community of New York City. Volunteers are involved in direct service, advocacy, and education, and come together periodically to share, learn, and brainstorm.

Oftentimes, services are available but those in need don’t know  about them or know how to access them. So I also learned one more important itemUJA-Federation of New York has set up an emergency call center to help individuals who need assistance with these or other issues. Just call J11 (which is the same as 511). What a great idea…who knew?

For more information about volunteering with Engage in Brooklyn, please contact Susan Kranberg at 347.415.0943 or