Twelve-year-old Rebecca Stein has a lot of different interests. She enjoys spending time with her friends, watching movies and hanging out with her family. One of her longtime interests, though, has been baking, and over the years she has become quite adept at making a variety of desserts and pastries. Since she will be celebrating her bat mitzvah soon, Rebecca decided to incorporate these baking skills into a chesed project by holding a weekly bake sale to raise money for the Bergen County Chanukah Toy Drive, which donates toys to charities across the county and beyond. (They donate in New York and Israel as well.)
Rebecca began her efforts this past September, and thus far has sold a number of treats to local patrons. She and her family have been familiar with the toy drive for a few years now, so it was a natural decision that the tzedaka raised would go towards supporting the annual drive.
“The toy drive really means a lot to me,” Rebecca shared with The Jewish Link. “Every year my family and I would donate toys to them, and it became a part of our Chanukah tradition. Since I love to bake, when I was thinking of ideas for a chesed project I knew it was going to be something that let me make fun treats and also help them out. My mom agreed that it was a good idea, and so we got right to work.”
Rebecca’s specialties include cookies, cupcakes and challah varieties that everyone can enjoy—there are gluten-free, egg-free and sugar-free options—though she reports that one of her most popular items are her rice-krispie treats. Due to the high demand, there is rarely a week when they don’t sell out.
“I decide what I want to make at the start of the week, and then my mother and I go shopping to pick up the ingredients,” Rebecca continued. “People come to our house on Fridays to pick it up, and they’re always complimenting the food and how good it looks. It makes me feel really good, because I know I’m not just helping out with the toy drive, but I’m also making the Shabbat a bit sweeter.”
Rebecca has the full support of her parents, Elysia and Marc Stein, and her big sister, Abby Stein. They help out both in and out of the kitchen, either sorting the orders or assisting patrons who have come to pick up their items.
“Every week, whenever there’s a knock on the door, Rebecca gets so excited,” Abby shared. “She gets this big smile on her face and loves seeing people enjoy the things she made. That part makes my day, too, just seeing my sister do what she loves.”
Rebecca has already raised over $700 in the bake sale, and she plans to continue the sale for another two weeks. If you are interested in purchasing any of her goods, please visit her website, rebeccasbakesale.com.
“I’m really proud of what we’ve done,” Rebecca went on to say. “It means a lot knowing that the money we made is going to a good cause. Just knowing that kids are going to be able to have presents over the holidays because of my fundraising, it makes it all worth it.”
The Bergen County Chanukah Toy Drive has been running for almost 30 years now, and is currently run by Joy Sklar and Dalia Stelzer. Since its inception they have gone from having 15 collection sites to over 50, with donated toys estimated to be in the tens of thousands. Every educational institution from preschool through high school and every synagogue in the greater Bergen county participates. Sklar could not be happier with the success the organization has seen.
“It’s phenomenal; we can hardly believe it ourselves,” Sklar said. “This organization was started by a woman named Marla Friedman, who after 20 years asked if I could take it on. We are so thrilled to be continuing the work and doing all we can to ensure that every child knows that someone remembers them during this gift-giving season.”
The toy drive is in full swing. The organization is run by volunteers young and old, and are able to keep up their work thanks to the contributions from people like Rebecca.
“Chanukah is not just about getting material gifts, but sharing the positivity with others who are less fortunate,” Sklar went on to say. “Our tagline is ‘Put a Smile on Someone Else’s Face This Holiday,’ and Rebecca exemplifies this philosophy perfectly. Because of people like her, more kids will feel included in the holiday. That’s what the holiday season is all about.”
The Bergen County Chanukah Toy Drive is actively accepting donations for the coming holiday season. If you like to make a donation or learn more, check out their website, bctoydrive.com, or email Sklar at [email protected]
Adam Samuel is a journalist from Teaneck. He blogs at www.adamssoapbox.com.