by Nomi Small
I went to three holiday parties this week. At each one I served in a different capacity and at each one I had a vastly different experience.
There is another religious gap year program in Portland and it is geared towards post college Quakers. Tivnu had met up previously with the Quaker Voluntary Service for a homelessness awareness walk and they were kind enough to invite us to their holiday party. It was fascinating to see another gap year house and how they ran things differently from us. In addition they had mistletoe hanging in a doorway, a Christmas tree they’d decorated together, and even baby Jesus gingerbread cookies. I spent thirteen years of my life attending day school and not once had I ever been to a real Christmas party.
I ended up having a great conversation with two of a QVS participant’s friends. The three of them had bonded over attending international schools in multiple countries and therefore struggled to have an affinity or elegance to a particular culture. That’s the thing about Portland. You end up meeting all sorts of people with fascinating life stories.
As I mentioned in my previous blog post, I intern at Portland Homeless Family Solutions. PHFS runs both a day shelter and a night shelter where they offer food, shelter, and housing assistance to families. Tuesday afternoon after school was over, PHFS hosted a holiday party for their guests and other homeless families in the community. I got there early and helped decorate the walls and the tables.
Shortly, the families started arriving. There was a new family that had just joined the shelter who I had met the previous day during my shift. Their two oldest girls, 5 and 6, ran over to me and gave me a big hug. “Nomi! We’ve missed you!” they exclaimed. They quickly dragged me over to their table so that I could start helping them with their gingerbread house.
Between their mother, her girl friend, and me, we tried to build a gingerbread house for each of their daughters to decorate. The 2 year old occupied herself with candy and very quickly the girl friend got whisked into building her own high tech gingerbread house with another volunteer. As this was my first time building a gingerbread house, I reached for the easiest looking kit and was successfully able to piece it together after a little struggling. The poor mother had a kit that just didn’t want to fit together. She spent a good half hour or forty-five minutes fighting the gingerbread house. Finally she turned to the 6 year old and said, “Why don’t you go and help your sister decorate hers?” The 6 year old obliged and together they worked on the house that I had built. After looking at her eldest daughters and smiling, the mother turned to me and said, “God bless you, Nomi. At least my daughters have one house to work on.”
I didn’t know what to say. How do you explain how you feel when you’ve given an edible house to children who don’t have a real one?
Wednesday on the worksite, AmeriCorp was talking with us about what a Hannukah celebration entails. I mentioned how sometimes we have Sufganiyot, jelly donuts, but they were pretty expensive so we weren’t going to have any. Needless to say, AmeriCorp was disappointed that we wouldn’t have so on the way home, I googled a Sufganiyot recipe because this is Portland and you might as well make your own.
The first challenge we had to overcome was finding a small baster with which we could inject the jelly filling. After searching the kitchenware aisle and every other aisle at Safeway, Danielle walked up to the Safeway Pharmacy and asked them for an eyedropper. Thank you Safeway Pharmacy for your generous donation to Tivnu’s Sufganiyot.
Danielle and I started mixing the dough around 9pm and while we were waiting for it to rise, I made some applesauce for the Latkes we were going to make. Around 12am Danielle went to sleep and Baye helped me start frying the donuts. Then Judah took a shift and we finished making the donuts at 2am. I still say they were worth it.
Together, we made Hannukah sugar cookies, Sufganiyot, potato latkes, sweet potato latkes, apple sauce, and a fruit salad. We played the Rugratz Hannukah special in the background and our guests came from Americorp, the Tivnu board, the Moishe House and basically any else we knew in Portland came. A fun time was had by all and the food was a total success.
Never before had I been to a Christmas party. Never before had I built a gingerbread house with homeless children. Never before had I felt ownership over a Hannukah party. We are almost 5 months into this gap year and I am still having new experiences every week. There will be a lot of new improvements to Tivnu along with the New Year and I am excited to see what challenges and excitement the second semester will have to offer.
Happy Hannukah and Happy Holidays.