October 25, 2010

15 years of Holiday Helpings

Next week marks the launch of Holiday Helpings! In the coming months, Bread for the City will distribute more than 8,000 special holiday packages, including a whole turkey and all the trimmings, to all of our food pantry's clients. Just $29 will bring Holiday Helpings to a family of four — you can help us start strong by making a donation here. We're also still signing up participants for community and workplace drives -- email us to learn more.

To start this year off, we asked Bread for the City board member (and all-time high-scoring Holiday Helpings all-star) Paul Taskier, of Dickstein Shapiro LLP, to share with us his reflections on fifteen years of this beloved program.
Paul's story is below.

My name is Paul Taskier. I am a father of three, a citizen of the District for over 30 years, a partner at Dickstein Shapiro LLP, and a volunteer and long-time supporter of Bread for the City.

I have been blessed and lucky. My parents escaped the Nazis, and fled to America – my mother with one suitcase and my father with $12 in his pocket.

The day after he arrived, my father found work in a mailroom; my mother received a college scholarship for war refugees. They found great opportunity in this country, and worked hard all their lives to build a better future for their children.

As I grew up, attended college and then law school, I carried on from my parents a sense of great responsibility to the communities that had given us so much. It was this sense of responsibility that led me, gratefully, to Bread for the City.

Bread for the City helps people who, in many cases, never had the kinds of opportunities that my family found. People who’ve grown up under a broken educational system, a faltering economy, domestic violence, racism and other hardships. People who worked all their lives but now struggle with illness and the rising cost of trying to make ends meet.

I first came to Bread for the City in 1996, when the chief judge of the DC Superior Court asked my law firm, Dickstein Shapiro, to provide pro bono legal services to Bread for the City’s clients. I’d known about Bread for the City’s food pantry (the largest in the city) and its medical clinic (one of only a handful of free clinics in the city) and it was clear that our lawyers could really make a difference here. My colleagues and I signed up.

Years later, with pride and pain, I remember one case vividly: Beth. She’d been a drug abuser and an alcoholic in the past, but had since sobered up and found work as a restaurant dishwasher.

Beth was just one day younger than I—yet she looked as if she was 25 years my senior. By the time she came to Bread for the City, diabetes and years of upright labor had taken a severe toll. Beth was hardly able to walk, let alone stand and work.

Despite this clear disability, however, the Social Security Administration had denied Beth the disability benefits that she needed to survive. We litigated her case through the appeals process, and we were successful. (Bread for the City has a success rate of well over 90% for public benefits appeals.)

But though we won the appeal, we still lost Beth: the circulation in her legs collapsed, and they needed to be amputated. To our despair, Beth died on the operating table.

Right then I could see how, for people in need, so much depends upon receiving the right help at the right time. In Bread for the City, I’d found a place that provides all kinds of help to anyone who needs it.

[Holiday Helpings 2010 promo clip developed by BFC's Nate LaBorie]

My first year as a volunteer also happened to be the very first year of Holiday Helpings. The food pantry decided to try to raise enough money to provide a complete holiday meal – a turkey and all the trimmings – to all of its clients.

When I saw a flyer describing the program, I realized that for these families I'd been helping, a true holiday celebration would otherwise be an unaffordable luxury.

That brought to mind my own family’s holiday meals. For my family, Thanksgiving was often the only time when all of us would come together in one space. With so many of our relatives lost in the Holocaust, these holidays were truly life-affirming. I could see my mother’s great joy at having her children, parents, and cousins all at one table, giving thanks. These were the times that gave us hope, and made us strong. So I immediately felt that this program was important.

There I was, about to write a check that would buy dinner for 10 families. Then I realized: I could really make a difference by appealing to my colleagues of like mind.

I walked the halls of the law firm and went into every partner’s office, telling each of them about this great organization and its holiday drive. In just a few days, I raised $10,000! When I called Bread for the City to let them know, they were shocked. George Jones, Bread’s Executive Director, told me the entire Holiday Helpings budget was just $20,000.

Well, this set a fire under me. The next year the members and staff of my firm gave $20,000, and the following year we helped raise $40,000. The numbers grew each year thereafter. Holiday Helpings kept growing too: last year Bread for the City provided holiday meals to 8,000 families in need – and Dickstein Shapiro’s staff and lawyers contributed more than $145,000.

Last year, even as we broke our own fundraising records, the importance of Bread for the City’s Holiday Helpings was most profoundly brought home to me by a small note accompanying a modest gift. A very junior member of our staff wrote:
“When I was growing up, the only time we ever had a holiday meal with a turkey was when my mom got one from Bread for the City. Without that help, we never would have had a real Thanksgiving. I don't have a lot to spare, but I feel like God has given me the chance to give something back. So please take this contribution so that some other kid can have a real Thanksgiving like I had.”
When I read this note from our employee—once a Bread for the City client, and now a donor—I thought of my parents when they’d just arrived in America. My father working long days in the mailroom, my mother setting the Thanksgiving table for four generations of our family that had escaped a terrible fate.

In that moment, the true value of Holiday Helpings became even more real to me.

Even the poorest among us deserve to enjoy a holiday meal in the sanctity of their own home, even when times are tough. Especially then. For these families, a turkey with all the trimmings is more than a meal– it’s a blessing. A chance for togetherness and strength.

You can help us work together to bring that strength to thousands of our most vulnerable neighbors. The easiest way to help is by donating directly: $29 will bring Holiday Helpings to a family of four.

But you, too, can go above and beyond. I’ve found that community fundraising drives are a fun and very effective way to make a huge difference during Holiday Helpings. You can multiply your impact by bringing your friends and colleagues into the act.

Holiday Helpings starts next week--lines will form at Bread for the City bright and early on Monday, as people come for the very first turkeys. During this holiday season, Bread for the City will open its doors to more people than ever before. Please consider giving today -- and even more importantly, please consider signing up to run a Holiday Helpings Drive in your workplace, house of worship, or civic association. It's not too late to get started. To learn more, please contact Nathan LaBorie at 202.386.7611 or nlaborie@breadforthecity.org.

Happy Holidays,

Paul R. Taskier
Member, Bread for the City’s Board of Directors
Partner, Dickstein Shapiro LLP


Karen in VA said...

Hi Paul!! Thanks for sharing your story.

Aliana said...

Wow, great stories about the experiences of both Paul and the junior staff member. Truly heartwarming. :)