For the past 46 years, members of Rhode Island Hadassah (The Women’s Zionist Organization of America, Inc.) have been wrapping and helping frazzled shoppers (usually men) make the holidays a little easier.
Originally started by the Pawtucket chapter, in 1971, the year after the Warwick Mall opened, the group started wrapping in front of the original Filenes.
Several months before gift-wrapping started, the Pawtucket women would gather in members’ homes and make dozens of handmade ribbons and bows.
Husbands were not excused from serving, as they helped to carry in supplies and materials, and eventually some of them learned how to wrap.
“More than 50 people help each year, mostly Hadassah members, but some friends of members. Many Hadassah chapters around the country do gift wrapping,” said Judy Silverman, who is serving her twelfth year as gift wrap chairperson.
The wrappers have not missed a single year of their duties.
“Since the mall reopened in the year of the flood before December, we did wrap that year,” said Silverman.
Aram Garabedian, managing partner at the Mall, is pleased with the volunteers.
“I have always been happy and satisfied with the service they provide. People have become accustomed and actually expect to see these ladies. I’ve never had one complaint to deal with them. They truly seem to have fun while they are working. I especially commend them for all their hard work to raise money for their organization. All these ladies volunteer their time and energy for a cause they strongly believe in, while they provide a much-needed service to my customers. It’s a win-win for everyone,” Garabedian said.
The net goes to National Hadassah for their projects, probably mostly to Hadassah Hospital in Israel. In the past 45 years, they have raised close to half a million dollars.
“As with any organization that is volunteer based, around the holidays it hard for people to squeeze in any extra time to help,” Silverman said.
For returning wrapper, Sue Mayes, volunteering serves multiple purposes.
“I wrap of course, to support Hadassah but also to see friends and members whom I only see once a year at the gift wrap. It’s fun to be there, and the generosity and gratitude of the customers makes it so worthwhile to do this,” she said.
There are even “regular” customers who come to the booth year after year to have their purchases attended to.
“Originally, I had one gift wrapped because honestly, I was too lazy to do it myself,” said Brian Minden, a repeat customer of more than 10 years. “Once I started talking to the ladies about why they volunteer, and the work that the organization does, I started bringing more and more presents to them. Now, I count on them to do it all for me. I would be in big trouble if they weren’t here.”
Paula Goldberg who is going on ten years wrapping herself, has fond memories.
“I love seeing what people are giving as gifts and enjoy kibbitzing (talking) with the clients and other wrappers. There was one year when the lines were seven deep for each wrapper. I mentioned I was thirsty and a gentleman who was waiting for me to finish wrapping his gifts, ran to Newport Creamery and bought me something to drink. I offered to pay him back and he wouldn't accept the money and he thanked me for continuing to wrap," she said.
There are stories every year of unusual items brought in for wrapping, which have included bicycles and vacuum cleaners, but the one story that is still talked about is the man who brought in a tire for his wife.
When asked if there was a car to go with the tire, he simply said, “no.”
Look for the Hadassah gift wrapping booth in front of JCPenny from Sunday, December 17 until Sunday, December 24.
Payment is cash only.
Hadassah is the Women’s’ Zionist Organization of America. Established in 1912 by Henrietta Szold, Hadassah founded, owns and supports two world-class medical centers in greater Jerusalem. Hadassah is the largest Jewish organization in America, and one of the largest women’s volunteer organizations in the world, boasting 300,000 members.
For more information about Hadassah, the works they do or membership, check out www.hadassah.org.