While some synagogue sanctuaries are adorned with fresh flowers, the bimah of Temple Beth Hillel in Valley Village is lined with towers of fresh apples and oranges. Although the décor, devised by Leslye Adelman, is stylish, it is also functional. Every Monday, the fruit moves to the North Hollywood Interfaith Food Pantry (NHIFP), a coalition of synagogues and churches that provides about 5,000 meals per month to the needy.
“The first time I brought the fruit over, there was one homeless man who sat down with an apple in each hand,” Adelman recalled. “He devoured them as a small child would do with candy. It brought tears to my eyes that he was so grateful to have fresh fruit. The two years I’ve put in to adding fresh fruit into the mix of non-perishable food at the pantry was well worth the time and effort.”
Adelman’s three children are grown, yet she remains a mother figure in her professional and personal lives. Her work as a lactation consultant, childbirth educator and infant care specialist keeps her busy, but she finds the time and energy to oversee operations and volunteer activities at the pantry. She also volunteered for the 2013 Union for Reform Judaism Biennial and the Women of Reform Judaism Assembly, as well as at Temple Beth Hillel, home base for the 30-year-old food pantry.
While this schedule may pose a challenge to even the most philanthropic souls, for Adelman, staying involved in the community is second nature.
“When you’re passionate about something and you live what you are doing, everything just falls into place,” she said. “As I see it, [earning money through] my career is what keeps me able to do the food pantry. If you really believe in what you are doing, you make the time. I don’t think twice if somebody from the pantry calls and tells me they need something done, or they are short on help for some crisis with the pantry. It’s something I do, and I do not question where or how I will come up with the time.”
Adelman tries to inspire this mindset in other volunteers as she trains them, be they 5 or 95 years old. The way she raised her own children plays into her training approach. When school groups, scout troops or family members arrive, she starts with the basics — the history of the pantry and how it serves the community. From there, she personalizes the experience so each person can see how their mitzvot make a difference to individuals and the community.
“We have grown from serving primarily homeless people, to the wider community,” Adelman said. “I want to instill in the volunteers that they could be in need tomorrow, and this is one reason why they should take their work at the pantry seriously. On the other hand, especially when training younger kids, I want them to enjoy what they’re doing, whether it is bagging or sorting groceries, and make a game out of it. Some of the kids end up coming back week after week. I’m certainly still here.”