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Crayon mitzvahs

The small efforts made by the youngest among us improve the world in great ways

Most of my practical mitzvah-project ideas come from my students. My rebbes in the mitzvah crayon project are often the younger students in the day school or synagogue afternoon religious school.

The process goes like this: (1) I tell the students that I see children in a
restaurant, even 4-years-old with their eyes glued to an iPhone screen. (2) I play the “dumb adult” and say, “They must be playing ‘Nasty Birds’ or ‘Mixing Fruit.’” (3) However, when I ask if any of them still draw with the crayons the restaurant gives them, many hands go up. I am surprised since I thought that was passé in the 21st century.

I then move on to get them into the mode of Thinking Mitzvahs, saying, “There are only three things a restaurant can do with your crayons after you leave. What are they?”

They always know: Use them again, throw them away, or donate

I give them a statistic: Once, when I was with a friend in a restaurant, we estimated its size and popularity — if they throw them in the trash, they must throw out 500 crayons a week, which totals 26,000 a year. (That really grabs their attention.) Some time along the way, I ask them how many of them, at home, have 50 crayons, 100 crayons or more? Many hands go up, even in a non-Yuppie community. All of them are aware of the fact that there are kids who don’t have and never had any crayons.

Then I give them the plan of action: (1) You — not your parents ask the waiter or waitress what the restaurant does with the crayons after they are through eating. I tell them to be sure not to assume that the owners tell them to throw them away.

(2) If the waiter or waitress says they throw them away, often adding that it really bothers them, then ask to speak to the manager. Though I usually tell young students to start with the manager, it is the front-line waitstaff that actually throws them in the trash.

(This reminds me of a summer more than 50 years ago, when I was a waiter at camp. Twice or three times a week, we had to serve oatmeal. None, or at most one, of the 11-year old girls would touch it, and I would go back into the kitchen and scrape this food into the garbage.)

(3) When the manager comes to the table, explain that you go to
religious school Aleph or synagogue Bet or day school Gimmel, and you would like to help get crayons to other kids who don’t have any.

(4) Ask if they could just put all the crayons in a box in an out-of-the-way part of the kitchen or in a storeroom, and once a week or 10 days, some adult from the school or synagogue will pick them up, bring them back to the school, a class or two will sort through them and get them to an appropriate place for the other children. (A) They will, of course, tell the children that they come from restaurant Dalet, (B) they will sort them two ways — if for a school, all the greens in one box, the blues in another, etc., and if for individual children, they will take one of each color, tie a ribbon around it and attach a note saying, “Have fun!”

If they want to, they can take tzedakah money and buy coloring
books as an extra beautiful touch.

That’s how children, even the youngest, can know their power because without any magic formulas like “hocus pocus,” they have changed crayons into Mitzvah Crayons.

For more information, including a restaurant’s possible health concerns, go to the impressive — originally started by a teenager.

About the Author
Danny Siegel is a well-known author, lecturer, and poet who has spoken in more than 500 North American Jewish communities on Tzedakah and Jewish values, besides reading from his own poetry. He is the author of 29 1/2 books on such topics as Mitzvah heroism practical and personalized Tzedakah, and Talmudic quotes about living the Jewish life well. Siegel has been referred to as "The World's Greatest Expert on Microphilanthropy", "The Pied Piper of Tzedakah", "A Pioneer Of Tzedakah", and "The Most Famous Unknown Jewish Poet in America."
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