For many of us, Thanksgiving 2020 was like no other as the pandemic kept so many of us from traveling to gather with family. Some of us ate alone; others had empty seats at their dining room tables, after losing beloved relatives to COVID-19; and still, others observed the iconic traditional holiday via Zoom or some other virtual platform.
For too many Rhode Islanders, however, Thanksgiving this year wasn’t a day of celebration, but a day of shortages – too little food, too little money, too few resources. According to data from the United States Department of Agriculture, more than 54,200 households in Rhode Island alone are food insecure, which means that they are unsure where their next meal will come from, given inadequate resources. That number is one that is expected to grow, in light of COVID-19’s economic impact on so many individuals and families across the country and here at home.
Fortunately, thanks to the generous contributions of Kevin and Barbara Dwares to the Kosher Food Pantry, as well as contributions from others like them, including the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island, the Rhode Island Foundation, and one family – deeply committed to Jewish philanthropy who requested anonymity – the Jewish Collaborative Services’ Thanksgiving Food Drive provided grocery gift cards to 170 families. Many recipients of the Thanksgiving gift card are regular clients of JCS’ Kosher Food Pantry; they received additional essentials to tide them over during these difficult times. Each family received a gift card enclosed in a notecard with an image of the cover of the book, Live to the Max, The Max Gold Dwares story about faith and belief in God and mankind while battling leukemia, and more about Max’s inspiring story. Depicting Max and Kevin (Max’s father) skydiving, the book cover is eye-catching. Max began the book while he was ill and Kevin completed it after his son’s untimely death.
“We are so grateful to Barbara and Kevin Dwares, and all the other donors who stepped up to make this Thanksgiving a bit brighter for 170 families in need,” said JCS’ Chief Development Officer Sara Ades Goodwin. “Barbara and Kevin represent the best of Jewish philanthropy through their consistent attention to those in need. Their dedication to carrying out their son Max’s legacy is inspiring. Since our Kosher Food Pantry provides essential foods and household items to individuals and families in need year-round, we always welcome donations, regardless of the season.”
In early November, Jewish Collaborative Services talked with Barbara and Kevin Dwares about their generous contribution to JCS for the Thanksgiving Food Drive and their other philanthropic commitments. Before COVID-19 hit, Kevin, a retired government employee, volunteered once a week for each of these initiatives: Amos House (a nonprofit organization serving the needs of the homeless, the unemployed, and those living in poverty), the Tomorrow Fund (a nonprofit organization that aims to fulfill the dreams of children ill with cancer) and the Rhode Island Military Office, through which Kevin welcomes military personnel arriving at T.F. Green Airport in Rhode Island. Their younger son, Jacob, and his wife, Maria, live nearby with their nine-year-old daughter, Maya, who is named for Max.
Q: We know that much of your philanthropy centers around feeding the hungry; tell us more about that? What’s the motivation?
A: (Kevin and Barbara): Max, our late son who died at age 20 in 2004, and a bunch of his friends made 1,200 peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches for people who were living in a homeless shelter. While we had always done projects as a family, what surprised us was how many sandwiches Max and a half-dozen of his friends from the Bureau of Jewish Education Midrasha made in one day. Although we scrubbed peanut butter off the furniture for a week, the commitment and enthusiasm they had to make all those sandwiches in order to feed the hungry still motivates us to this day.
Q: To honor Max’ memory, you’ve continued to do philanthropic work, quietly, effectively, and without seeking recognition, for years. Can you tell us about some of those initiatives?
A: A year or two after Max died, we started Max’s Lunch Bunch – the peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich brigade – at various synagogues in Rhode Island or at our house several times a year. We also began collecting coats to donate to the State House’s Buy Nothing Day coat drive and we keep hats, gloves, and scarves to distribute to people on the street in the wintertime, and socks for the summertime… and snacks year-round. Barbara works part-time for the Warren Alpert School of Medicine at Brown University.
More recently, we’ve been collecting canned goods and other shelf-stable foods, clothing, cleaning, and toiletry supplies, and household goods to donate to McAuley Village, a nonprofit organization that provides transitional housing for single parents and their children, and Help the Homeless RI, a nonprofit organization using social media to collect and distribute items to help those who are homeless and to provide meals in underserved areas.
Kevin posts a weekly reminder on NextDoor and his Facebook page and the donations pour in. “That’s evolved into what I lovingly call another full-time job,” said Kevin. “People bring me stuff every day… one week I had to make four separate delivery trips. Even as we’re loading the car, people are dropping off stuff. It’s a labor of love for us; we do it because it’s the right thing to do.”
Q: What would Max (who would be 37 if he were alive today) say if he knew all the good you’ve done in the world?
A: “He’d be thrilled about McAuley Village, Help the Homeless RI, and our Jewish connections,” said Barbara. “I’m sure he is thrilled we’re continuing this.”
“If I ever won the lottery, I’d give all the money away; we’re simple people,” said Kevin. “We would like to be called mensches. Max is a mensch; Jacob is a mensch. I took Max skydiving before he died; he wanted to be closer to God and he’d considered becoming a rabbi. People will have a happier Thanksgiving because of these donations.”
Kevin shared with JCS an excerpt from Live to the Max, The Max Gold Dwares story about faith and belief in God and mankind while battling leukemia: “I am profoundly committed to my Judaism … because of my love and devotion to God. One way in which I demonstrate my faith to God is by performing different acts of Tzedekah [philanthropy, social justice] from feeding to clothing others.”
The book, Live to the Max, The Max Gold Dwares story about faith and belief in God and mankind while battling leukemia, is available from Amazon.
To be in touch with Kevin, please email Kevindwares@gmail.com.
While this year’s Thanksgiving Food Drive is concluded, JCS always welcomes donations of food or monetary contributions to the Kosher Food Pantry. Contact Pantry Coordinator Marcie Ingber, at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information or make a donation online at JCSRI.org/donate.