Volunteers from Oceanside’s Temple Avodah helped out their Christian peers this holiday season by standing in for workers at Mercy Medical Center on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
The hospital in Rockville Centre — a member of Catholic Health Services of Long Island — has a staff of roughly 1,700 people, and volunteers run the reception desk and gift shop on a daily basis. But many of them are Christian, and every year the temple’s Jewish congregants swoop in to relieve them of their duties on Dec. 24-25 and allow them to celebrate Christmas.
Oceanside resident Ira Katz, 71, helped organize the effort 17 years ago, and each year makes an announcement in the temple to recruit people willing to help. Katz is on the board of Oceanside Community Service, and also volunteers at a soup kitchen in Long Beach on Mondays.
“I personally believe in doing things for the community beyond just donating money,” Katz said. “I believe that people feel it’s rewarding to help someone out and do something physically.”
This year, about 25 people volunteered, as pairs manned the reception desk and the gift shop for two-hour shifts on Christmas Eve and 2 1/2-hour blocks on Christmas Day, totaling 16 hours of coverage during the two-day span.
Barry and Linda Howard have been volunteering for the last seven years, and helped out in the gift shop on Christmas Eve, where the hospital sells sweets and gifts. The job includes managing the small store, running the cash register and wrapping items for the customers.
Those at the reception desk direct the hospital’s visitors to various places and answer the phones. Katz said he created a set of procedures for the volunteers to keep as a reference.
“It’s a way of kind of helping out and letting people who would like to be home with their family or finish up whatever they have to do before Christmas,” Linda said. “It gives them a chance to do that while we man the store.”
Kathleen Fee, Mercy’s director of volunteer services, has been working with the temple congregants for the last 11 years, and said they are self-sufficient and good salespeople.
“I love them!” she exclaimed. “You have no clue how much they have helped me and our staff here, and the families love that the gift shop and the front desk is covered…and how friendly they are. …It’s nice to know that I don’t have to worry on the biggest holiday of the year.”
Though the first night of Hanukkah fell on Christmas Eve this year, shifts continued until 8 p.m. on Dec. 24. Katz said he thanked everyone for their service in an email, and got a similar response from all. “It was almost like they wrote a script,” he said. “Everyone [sent] back, ‘It was our pleasure.’…People really feel it’s rewarding.”