Any parent knows that finding a family activity that is reasonably priced, remotely beneficial, and has universal appeal, basically happens about once every never. If your children have a wide age gap, you may as well not bother trying. And yet, sometimes, where you least expect it, you’ll find exactly the thing.

My friend invited my family to join hers packing food at Pantry Packers, the Colel Chabad project to provide food for the needy. I thought it sounded like a nice thing to do and invited my kids to come. The 13 year-old and the 6 year-old both came, motivated in part by the pizza and ice cream promised for after.

It was a bit of a drive, after a long day at school so I’ll admit my expectations weren’t high. Entering the massive warehouse and seeing a bunch of strange families made the kids skeptical about the outing. They didn’t say a word, but I felt it in their body language.

Before beginning we found out a bit about Pantry Packers and Colel Chabad. I’ve known of Colel Chabad forever. I thought it was a Chabad Colel. As in, a place for married men to learn. I couldn’t be more wrong. Colel Chabad is actually the oldest social services organization in Israel from – wait for it – 1788!!!! (That’s a year, not an address!)

In fact, it’s the longest continuously running charity in Israel founded by the first Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi who instructed his emissaries to set up the organization to benefit the small and struggling Jewish population in the Holy Land.  Pantry Packers invites volunteers, many of whom are tourists, to come to their Talpiyot packaging plant and be directly involved in the packaging process.

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Well, there we were, about to be directly involved in the packaging process. Then we began. They had us all lined up along both sides of an assembly line. The first person in the line put together a box, and each successive person placed the correct number of designated items from an adjacent grocery cart into the box. And then we did it again. And again. So many times. I thought we would be bored. I thought it would be tedious. I thought the kids would kill me…. But they didn’t.

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My daughter, happily at her station.

Actually? The kids loved it. They met people, even made friends. Of course there was the pizza. And an obscene amount of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. Yet when I asked them what their favorite part of the whole outing was? They both said, unequivocally, “the packing.” 🙂

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My son standing next to some of the hundreds of boxes that we packed together with the other volunteers.

What an honor to help pack food for needy families before the holidays. What a pleasure to do something so meaningful with my children that they truly enjoy. What a great way to go into the new year…

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If you want to participate in this meaningful activity go to http://pantrypackers.org/get-involved/. To donate to the cause go to http://www.colelchabad.org/.