Jewish Community Relations Councilof San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin, Sonoma, Alameda and Contra Costa Counties


Recycling Books into Centerpieces for Charitable Events

October 19, 2016
Posted by: Rachel Alger, JCL AmeriCorps VISTA Program Associate

Six years ago, Redwood City resident Betsy Rosenthal was looking to get more involved in the Jewish community. Her daughter had recently participated in a philanthropic service project to benefit the Jewish Coalition for Literacy (JCL), a nonprofit program to expand childhood literacy in high poverty communities across the Bay Area. JCL matches volunteer reading tutors with struggling students in public elementary schools in San Francisco, East Bay and Peninsula communities.

Instead of volunteering in a traditional role as a weekly reading tutor, Rosenthal put her creative talents to use and began making special event centerpieces made up of children’s books to benefit JCL. Shortly after Rosenthal began working on the project, her friend Barbara Goldman, a Cupertino resident, began to help her out.

 “We love the cause of children’s literacy and being able to share books throughout the communities that need books the most,” the pair said. “We enjoy doing this because it utilizes our creative talents and our friendship for a good cause.”

The duo work out of Rosenthal’s garage and can make about 20 pieces within a 3-5 hour timeframe.

The centerpieces, which are primarily used for Bar Mitzvahs, charity events, birthday parties and fundraisers are made from a stack of children’s books wrapped in colored chiffon and tied with a ribbon and a center decoration. Color schemes can be customized to match any event. All proceeds go directly to the Jewish Coalition for Literacy to keep the program running.

 “JCL made this day so special and meaningful, at such short notice,” said Vered Links, who purchased centerpieces for her son’s Bar Mitzvah in June at Oakland’s Congregation Beth Jacob. “They were definitely the highlight of each table and a great talking point. Not only were they visually beautiful, but it was also very meaningful to know they were made using donated books which would then be reused.”

“It’s such a wonderful tradition!” Rosenthal and Goldman professed. “We are happy to be part of these celebrations!”

“The entire day – service and evening event – went incredibly well,” remarked Peter Hoffman, who also purchased centerpieces for his son, Noah. “We're really proud of Noah. The centerpieces and cards worked really well. Each table had the centerpiece of books with the descriptive card next to it,” Hoffman explained. The descriptive cards are colorful table tents that reiterate JCL’s commitment to tikkun olam while also highlighting each event.

JCL provides more than just an attractive option for party centerpieces. When it came time to plan Noah’s Bar Mitzvah, his family came to JCL to order centerpieces for the special event, but they went one step further. They turned the event into part of Hoffman’s Mitzvah project and organized a book drive.

“Books are the foundation for learning,” said Hoffman. “I’m proud that the service project ended up collecting over 1,000 children’s books for JCL. It feels great knowing that I helped hundreds of kids have their own new book, and maybe even learn to read a little better.”


PHOTO: Betsy Rosenthal and Barbara Goldman work on party centerpieces at Rosenthal’s Redwood City home

This post originally appeared on the San Francisco-based Jewish Community Federation & Endowment Fund blog.