Super Sunday’s fundraising and activism

More than 450 people took part in fundraising and community service activities Feb. 10 as part of Super Sunday, during which The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and the Jewish Federation Valley Alliance raised $1,942,736 as part of its annual fundraising campaign.

“Super Sunday was an enormous success,” Jay Sanderson, president and CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, said in an e-mail sent out to the Los Angeles community. “Together we raised [nearly $2 million], which will make a significant impact on our Federation’s work caring for Jews in need, engaging with the community and ensuring the Jewish future.”

A yearly tradition, this installment of Super Sunday represented several firsts, including one new location, a more targeted phone-banking strategy, greater transparency, more experienced fundraisers and the use of cell phones instead of landlines. 

Still, the basics of Super Sunday — phone-a-thons in Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley to raise funds for The Federation — did not change.

“We like to tell people: You’re not raising money for [people like] yourself, you’re raising money for the people The Federation helps,” said James Felton, Valley Alliance campaign co-chair. “And it’s easy to fundraise when you’re thinking about those people.” 

Approximately 225 individuals signed up to be callers this year, said Mitch Hamerman, senior vice president of marketing at The Federation. 

Money raised during Super Sunday benefits Holocaust survivors, college students needing tuition assistance, the elderly, the hungry and others. It also funds programs that fall under the auspices of The Federation’s initiatives related to engaging the community, ensuring the Jewish future and caring for Jews in need.

Federation volunteers picked more than 3,500 pounds of fresh produce for donation to local food pantries.  Photo courtesy of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles

As usual, the event extended across the city, with Federation’s Wilshire Boulevard headquarters serving as a venue for an all-day phone-a-thon. For the first time, Temple Judea in Tarzana served as the Valley site with phone-banking taking place in the sanctuary. Super Sunday in the Valley used to be held at the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus in West Hills, but The Federation sold that property to New Community Jewish High School.

In the past, Federation reports of how much it raised on Super Sunday included money that had been donated to it throughout the year. This year, The Federation’s figure was limited strictly to what was raised exclusively on the one day. This was meant to increase transparency about Super Sunday, Sanderson said.

Additionally, phone-bankers limited calls to first-time donors and those who have contributed less than $5,000 in the past. As for those who have donated more than $5,000, The Federation will take the time to develop personal relationships with them, Sanderson said. 

Making calls from a new location did not appear to hinder Valley volunteers. Spirits high, volunteers such as Joel Volk placed calls from their cell phones and made their pitches.

“Are you interested in supporting The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles? It’s really about having a cohesive community here in Los Angeles,” the Thousands Oaks resident said to one of the dozens of people he called on Sunday. 

Cell phones were used instead of telephones because it was not cost-effective to bring the phones in, Sanderson said. Phone chargers for all kinds of cell phones were available to volunteers; donated cell phones were on hand for those who did not have their own, and volunteers who preferred to keep their phone numbers private dialed a special code before making each call.

Federation volunteers spruced up Friendship Circle’s new campus and helped prepare for its upcoming Purim party. Photo courtesy of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

Rhonda Seaton, communications director at the Valley Alliance, said Super Sunday has taken a quality-over-quantity approach over the past couple of years, reaching out to fewer — albeit more experienced — volunteers to make phone calls. This year’s phone-bankers included Federation lay-leaders and members of Federation networking and philanthropic groups, such as Young Adults of Los Angeles (YALA), Jewish Business Leaders and the Sylvia Weisz Women’s Campaign.

Volunteers used Instagram, an online photo-sharing tool, to take photographs of themselves placing calls, and they updated their Twitter feeds throughout the day.

“We want to connect with people in every way possible,” Sanderson said.

Sanderson traveled back and forth between the Wilshire Boulevard and Valley sites. Around 1:30 p.m., he and Richard Sandler, executive vice president of The Federation, arrived at Temple Judea just as David Melnick and Marcy Tajkef, co-chairs of the Valley Alliance Super Sunday, announced Valley phone-bankers had raised $346,693. The highest fundraisers will receive tickets to a taping of “American Idol,” an Amazon Kindle and other prizes, the co-chairs said.

The phone-a-thon is just one part of Super Sunday. This was the third consecutive Super Sunday that included a service component, and it is critical to The Federation’s mission, said Neuriel Shore, community and government affairs manager at The Federation.

“What’s The Federation there for? It’s there as a convener; it’s there to bring together the Jewish community in a way that community services does,” Shore said.

In the morning, Shore said he was expecting 250 people to participate in community service projects organized by The Federation throughout Los Angeles County. At one of these projects, volunteers, under the guidance of Food Forward, picked oranges at a grove adjoining a private residence in Agoura Hills. The nonprofit harvests the fruit on homeowners’ trees and donates the bounty to food pantries and food banks. 

Jeff Silverman, a 47-year-old sales manager from Woodland Hills, was happy to participate. As opposed to something insular — like “knitting yarmulkes for young Jews in Brooklyn” — Food Forward helps a broad population, he said. It also helps create community. Growing up in Highland, Ind., Silverman was the only Jewish student at his high school. Days like these help him connect with Jews in Los Angeles, he said.

Community service projects appealed to a variety of interests. Volunteers helped the Friendship Circle, an organization for families with special-needs children, prepare for its Purim party and beautify its new campus on Robertson Boulevard; others took a bus to a military base in Los Alamitos, where they prepared lunch for and shared a meal with military personnel; and in celebration of Purim and Presidents Day, YALA created patriotic-themed mishloach manot (“sending of portions”) to give to Jewish veterans.

Additionally, more than 200 high school students gathered at Temple Judea to do arts projects, assemble bags of food for Jewish Family Service’s SOVA Community Food and Resource Program and learn about global issues. Sherut L’Olam, which provides environmental and social justice education to teenagers, led the initiative.

Super Sunday may be about soliciting donations, but it is also about letting people know The Federation is there for them, Melnick said. When he spoke to someone on the phone who was unemployed, he told him about Federation programs that might be able to help. Given that he was doing this inside of a sanctuary, Melnick said it felt like “sacred work in a way that I hadn’t anticipated.”