The Social Action Committee of Temple Sholom of Chicago had been seeking to undertake a hands-on construction project to assist the poor. Through a referral, one committee leader made a connection with Harper House-which sits a mile from the synagogue, in an area where poverty backs up squarely to gentrification-and learned of the need for a food pantry.
The Temple advertised in its bulletin for volunteers skilled in carpentry, construction and painting to help build the pantry. In time 14 Temple members came forward, among them a carpenter, an architect, a lawyer, a painting contractor, an Internet consultant, a grocery-store manager and a journalist. The team spent the next three months renovating a rundown storage room near Harper House's kitchen. The architect drafted plans for the renovation. Then a subcontractor installed a steel support beam, framed space for a new door, tuckpointed the crumbling brick walls and installed a glass block window with a vent. Team members put in a security door, painted the floor and ceiling, and put up shelving. In the end, Harper House passed muster and began to benefit from the food depository.
The relationship with Harper House only deepened. Another group of Temple members, also under the aegis of the Social Action Committee, committed to plan, shop for and cook dinner at Harper House's drop-in soup kitchen one Saturday a month. The cooking group swelled from five founders to double that number as a sense of mission took hold. People's enthusiasm proved infectious.
Associate Rabbi Jay Henry Moses noticed that the walls of the small dining room where the food was served looked bare. Within days Cynthia Weiss, a celebrated public muralist and an active Temple member, had agreed to involve the synagogue's sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders in decorating the room. The colorful creation that Ms. Weiss and her middle-school team came up with-a house-like structure with "Hope is a Good Thing" as its anchor slogan and sayings from the mission statement on the sides-now graces the south wall of the dining room, delighting the Harper House population as they gather and eat.
The project has grown to embrace a broad cross-section of the Temple's membership-adults, youngsters and families-and in that it's been a glory. Even more important, it has left an appreciative Harper House. "Without the food pantry, we couldn't get food depository food," says Dick Conser, the Harper House board president. "The pantry was a great step forward, and the serving of dinner and the mural are wonderful gifts. We are extremely grateful," he added.