On Christmas morning, 550 members of the community met at UHC synagogue to collect thousands of pounds worth of chocolate bouquets and games consoles donated to Leeds’ unsung local heroes.
Groups of friends and families personally delivered these goodwill tokens to 132 locations citywide, including 20 wards at hospitals from Leeds General Infirmary (LGI) to Harrogate District Hospital and 15 fire stations from Kirkstall to Castleford. They visited care homes and sheltered accommodation such as Donisthorpe Hall and Skyte House, hospices including St Gemma’s and Martin’s House, as well as charities like Homeless Street Angels.
Naomi Williams, UHC community development officer played a chief role in coordinating the operation: “We’ve put a tremendous amount of work in over the last few months to find the locations of all our community heroes and get as many families as possible on board. It was an overwhelming feeling to have so many people in
the same room with a collective purpose. There are so many lovely initiatives we wanted to offer tokens of our thanks and the recipients, who don’t usually get this kind of appreciation, were all incredibly grateful.”
The campaign was formally endorsed by John Robins, chief constable of West Yorkshire Police: “I think it’s a fantastic thing the Jewish community are doing, saying thank you to all emergency service workers who are working over this festive period. The delivery of your thoughts and gifts on Christmas Day is a great gesture.”
The project received several thousand pounds of generous sponsorship, buying 126 gift-wrapped and UHC-branded kosher chocolate bouquets. This wasn’t the end of the goodwill, as on hearing the LGI were looking for activities for young inpatients who struggle to get out of bed, UHC members collectively raised enough money to buy three portable DVD players, four PlayStation 4 and two Nintendo Switch consoles to donate to the children’s wards.
The project was pioneered by the synagogue’s senior minister Alby Chait, who instigated the project on a smaller scale during Christmas 2018 – his wife Gila and their daughters delivering gifts to their local fire and police stations.
Commenting on the success of what proved to be the largest-scale gift drive in community history, Alby said: “Christmas is a day where we as Jewish people have an opportunity to perform a random act of kindness and show the kind of love we’re taught about in Cheder and the appreciation for the sacrifices so many make on their day of celebration and festivities.”