Photo by Lianne Cohen Photography
Rose Lewin had an affect on everyone she met, but no one more than her granddaughter Courtney Cohen.
With Passover only a few weeks away, this is a time of great reflection.
To Courtney, Grandma Rose, a Holocaust survivor, was truly an angel. The guiding light for how to live one’s life, and the inspiration for Rose’s Angels, a Richmond-based charity that aims to brighten the lives of those most vulnerable in our community.
The charity also honours Courtney’s other grandmother Babs Cohen, who at the time of her passing in 2016 was “the matriarch of our family.”
“They both exuded such love and compassion for friends and family, and instilled in me the importance of tzedakah, which is the Hebrew word for giving money or time to worthwhile causes,” explains Courtney.
Rose’s Angels, which recently marked its fifth year with an event to celebrate Valentine’s Day, was borne out of respect and admiration. Lynne Fader, a family friend, approached Courtney shortly after Rose passed away in 2012. They decided to collaborate on a project that would pay homage to Grandma Rose, and her ever-present gift of giving.
“Whenever I would bring an old or new friend over to my Grandma Rose’s home she would immediately offer them something to eat. This was the lightbulb moment for me to incorporate non-perishable food items into our care packages,” Courtney says.
On Dec. 25, 2013 Courtney, Lynne and 15 volunteers delivered 250 care packages (including sandwiches and gloves) to residents of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Its population suffers from very high rates of mental health and substance use issues. Since Rose’s Angels joined forces with the Kehila Society of Richmond in February 2015, it now operates under the latter’s umbrella. And since both Courtney and Lynne are very connected in Richmond, “We chose to make it our main focus for care packages,” says Courtney, who is the outreach co-ordinator for Kehila.
“Our incredible volunteer team has grown since 2012,” she adds proudly. “This year, over 70 amazing volunteers took time out of their busy lives to come out on Feb. 11 to assist with preparing 1,000 care packages.”
Items included toiletries, non-perishable food, new slippers, socks, gloves and hats, and such children’s items as books, crayons, games and toys.
“We contacted each individual program and discussed with their staff what theirs clients’ wish-list items were for the care packages. Our goal is to make the items in the packages specific to individuals receiving them,” Courtney says. “I am hoping to surpass the amount of donations every year. I also want to allow new volunteers and community members to become involved in this outreach project and to also help spread the word about the incredible programs serving individuals living in poverty in Richmond.”
After Babs’ passing, Courtney was also motivated to incorporate Beauty for Babs into the project.
This meant collecting donations of feminine hygiene products and makeup for recipients at women’s shelters.
“My Grandma Babs was a lifetime member of the Hadassah Wizo Organization which supports programs and services for children, and healthcare and women in Israel and Canada. Every year they hold an annual event in Vancouver called the Hadassah Bazaar, of which my grandmother was very involved. This past year I was a recipient of an award from Hadassah for my community work with Rose’s Angels.”
Both grandmothers’ legacies live on through the love and care that goes into every package donated, Courtney says.
“I hope the recipients feel extra special.”
Courtney notes the number of individuals who receive care packages increased to more than 1,000 this year. Donated to 21 different organizations within Richmond that assist individuals living in poverty, these include Richmond Food Bank, Richmond Family Place, Light of Shabbat Program, Heart of Richmond AIDS Society, Jewish Food Bank, and Touchstone Family Association.
While volunteers make up the heart of Rose’s Angels, the projects also requires the generosity of the community at large to succeed. The support from The Kehila Society of Richmond, donors and community members has been exemplary, enabling Rose’s Angels to run smoothly and successfully year after year.
Donations are collected through the year, but the main planning process begins in September. Letters are sent out to family, friends and community groups and both Courtney and Lynne attend various board meetings to share the Rose’s Angels program with potential donors. Securing the event location, recruiting volunteers and coordinating the delivery of care packages all happens prior to the event date.
“Our fifth Rose’s Angels event (Feb. 11) was a massive success,” Courtney says, reflecting the generous, unconditional love, and community spirit her grandmothers so embodied.
•Volunteers are always needed. To learn more, email email@example.com or call the Kehila Society of Richmond at 604-241-9270 or visit http://www.kehilasociety.org