Hope Blecher
Hadassah Educators Council

How One Can Can Make a Difference for Thanksgiving

Artwork courtesy of Hadassah.
Artwork courtesy of Hadassah.

This trio of books, The Can-Do Thanksgiving, Uncle Willie and the Soup Kitchen, and What Do You Do with An Idea? are written and illustrated by different people and published by different presses.

What unites these stories is the theme of how one action can make a difference, in a good way. It’s a difference that opens doors, opens opportunities and opens the mind to possibilities.

For some people, this season of Fall becomes a season for reflection and giving thanks. For others it may be a time for concern about clothing and food, while others may turn towards charitable actions.

With a few books and a bit of planning, teachers, librarians, home school and care providers, in conjunction with community members, can explore and engage, together.

Three complementary books are The Can-Do Thanksgiving by Marion Hess Pomeranc, Uncle Willie and the Soup Kitchen by Dyanne Sisalvo-Ryan and What Do You Do with An Idea by K. Yamada. These texts along with some activities can span from November through January, from the season of thanks through National Soup Month.

Beginning with The Can-Do Thanksgiving, the setting for the “read aloud” is often next to a box that the class has for its canned food collection. As the sharing of the story takes place, there are various points where conversations can occur about food awareness.

To parallel what the child in the book does, grab those sticky notes, pencils and crayons. Participants craft smiley faces and other notes that get taped to the cans. This link from the can in the box, to the note, to a food pantry is the missing piece in some communities. The can gets put into a receptacle and then someone picks up the boxes and then somehow the canned food helps someone.

As I realized after reading this book for the first time, adding that handwritten note became a personal bridge. It’s no longer some can in some box making some hypothetical difference. It is real. Like me, you probably have participated in canned food drives in schools. I’ve made the choice to ask the representatives of the local organizations to come into the classrooms to meet with the students. In this way, the boxes didn’t just disappear from the classroom. The representative comes in to speak with the students about the impact their action has upon the local community. This fosters a school-community connection and brings context to the food collection.

There are opportunities for learning between putting a can in a box and the boxes getting carted away. These lessons span from STEM (Science-Technology- Engineering-Mathematics) to STEAM (Science-Technology-Engineering-Arts-Mathematics) to STREAM (Science-Technology-Research-Engineering-Mathematics) and from kindergarten through college. Count the cans, sort the cans, weigh the cans, alphabetize the cans, explore the nutritional value of the contents, and plot food production sources on a map. What’s the point of distribution to point of school or home?

We have a variety of ingredients and ways to foster meaningful hospitality. It’s at our fingertips and the tip of our tongues. From Strega Nona to Culinary Arts, these books can become a starting point for creating cookbooks and inviting people into the class to demonstrate how to cook. These can become pathways for virtual and in person field trips. There is fodder for career and technical education as well as for hosting soup tastings for National Soup Month in January.

Andy Warhol revolutionized art with one soup can. Ponder, what giving or receiving that one can can feel like? Such a unit of learning can culminate with the book, What Do You Do with An Idea by Kobi Yamada.

Look at Hadassah. See what happens when one person has an idea and brings it to another person and that person says, “Yes, we can do that.” Feel what happens when a person accepts the challenge to make a difference.

We can look to our founder, Henrietta Szold, as an example. According to Hadassah’s history, “Henrietta Szold was the first female editor of the Jewish Publication Society, a position she retained for 23 years! She defied convention and studied at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America…On a trip to pre-state Israel, horrified by the impact which starvation and disease had on her people, she took action. That action resulted in the founding of Hadassah in 1912.”

Today, members of Hadassah around the globe work with the “can do” attitude. It runs throughout the advocacy groups and into the rooms of the doctors and patients at the medical center. Like “The Little Engine that Could,” I think I can, I think I can, I can! The result: tikkun olam (repairing the world).

For example, the Hadassah Medical Organization in conjunction with the expansion of the Round Building at the Ein Kerem Hospital Campus and the sustainability of operations at the Mount Scopus Hospital campus, are providing many opportunities for people to be involved in research, in rehabilitation and in curing patients, locally and worldwide. Staff and patients at Hadassah’s hospitals are serving as a model for peaceful coexistence, building on our long history of being a beacon of healing for patients around the corner and around the world.

As you gather with family and friends this Thanksgiving, think about and talk about cans. Perhaps you are being hands on and working to donate, sort or deliver cans. What can you do with an idea? What one can can make a difference for those with whom you are gathered?

After Thanksgiving, as you are tidying up from the holiday, take a moment or two to share suggestions with your local non-profit or Hadassah chapter members. There are certainly opportunities to turn thinking about cans into actions about cans. I ask that you share your ideas and cans in response to this blog post. Your ripple can flow and have an impact far and wide.

Take that step, I know you can.

About the Author
Dr. Hope Blecher, a member of the Hadassah Educators Council and the Hadassah Writers' Circle, has been working in the field of education for 37 years. Currently, she serves as an English as a Second Language teacher for an adult education program in NJ. Recently, she became the founder of Previously, Hope served in capacities from being the first Middle School Curriculum Coordinator and Humanities teacher for a yeshiva in Teaneck, NJ, to serving in public schools as the Director of Curriculum and Instruction, and the Supervisor of English Literacy, Social Studies and Media Services. Dr. Hope Blecher holds multiple standard NJDOE issued certifications that she has used by serving as an adjunct professor, a teacher of high school students with special needs, English Language Learners K-adult, and those in the elementary age level classrooms. Along with friends and colleagues, Hope co-authored educational books and articles. She earned a BA in Sociology, an MA in Early Childhood Education, and an Ed.D. in Teacher Leadership. She has been a member of Hadassah for over a decade, first in the Southern NJ chapter and currently in the Lower New York State chapter.
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