[by Shiela Steinman Wallace]
For most b’nai mitzvah candidates, preparing for their special day means spending a year studying with the rabbi, cantor and/or a tutor, learning some Hebrew and maybe how to do some chanting, inviting lots of friends and family and planning a special party. Many also include volunteering for 13 hours through Jewish Family & Career Services’ Pledge 13 program. Some also do mitzvah projects.
For Chad Kamen, articulate seventh grader at Kentucky Country Day who is preparing for his March 26, 2011, bar mitzvah at The Temple, the bar mitzvah project has become a major focus of his life.
“In the very beginning,” he explained, “I really needed a bar mitzvah project and was trying to think about what I really like. I really like food, so I wanted to do something with that. I also needed a speech for my speech team,” he continued, “so I decided on the topic, ‘Dinnertime Is at Threat of Being Lost in American Culture.’”
Chad began doing some research and came to the conclusion that for many people, dinnertime is “completely off their radar because people are too busy with activities and work schedules. What I want to do is bring this back because it’s a huge detriment to a teen not to eat with a family.
“First, they always have nutrition problems because they don’t learn from their parents how to eat healthfully,” he said. “They have way lower self esteem. They can develop eating disorders such as anorexia, and they can become more likely to do drugs and alcohol and get poor grades.”
Chad also came to understand that some families who don’t share dinnertime don’t have a choice in the matter. “There are many people who cannot even afford to eat together,” he observed.
Determined to do something about this and to do a mitzvah project for his bar mitzvah that can really make a difference, Chad contacted Dare-to-Care, Louisville’s largest food bank. “They asked if I could help with their Hunger Walk, a 5K walk on September 19th of this year. They challenged me to raise $10,000 for this walk so I could be an event sponsor.”
Chad took them up on their challenge. “I created Team Food Chain, which is now one of the main sponsors of the Walk, and our motto is ‘linking families together one meal at a time,’ and our mission is to bring back the critical importance of dinnertime to all Americans and to get healthy meals on the table for families who cannot afford to do it.”
There are very few middle school students who would even consider a project of this magnitude, but Chad took it on with the support and assistance of his mother, Abby.
“Right now, I’ve raised $10,000 in corporate sponsors,” he reported. But he is not ready to quit yet. His next mission is to work with the Jewish community and his school “to get everyone they can to come out for this walk.”
He has a plan to accomplish that as well. “I’ve made some challenges at my school to get kids involved,” he explained. He’s also convinced the rabbis at The Temple to give a sermon about food at Rosh Hashanah, “and I’m going to go up to the bima and announce Team Food Chain to the community,” he added.
He’s also talking with Matt Goldberg, the Jewish Community of Louisville’s Community Relations Council director, and he hopes to get other congregations involved as well.
Chad credit Whole Foods with helping him achieve the success he has had to date. Tim Roethgen, the director of marketing and team leader for store at 4944 Shelbyville Road, has been with him throughout this journey. “They were my first sponsor,” he explained, and “they made an in-kind donation of 100 percent recyclable Frisbees with my logo on them,” which were sold at the store on August 16.
That Whole Foods store will also operate a “giving grill” on September 4 from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. “All the proceeds will go directly to Dare-to-Care,” Chad said, and if you missed your chance to get a Team Food Chain Frisbee the first time, you’ll be able to pick one up then.
Chad has had other help along the way. KCD’s vice principal of development, Jamey Elliot, has helped Chad with his efforts at school, and now, Chad is working with Student Council President Ryan Scinta to make “a video to show at school” to get their fellow students to participate in the Hunger Walk.
“It’s been a wonderful journey, doing it together,” Abby Kamen said. “It’s been like running a mini corporation.”
In addition to this project, Chad likes to play golf and go to Camp Timberland in Woodruff, WI.
In addition to his mother, Chad’s family includes his father, Craig, and sister, Samantha.