WASHINGTON - Christmas is a day for getting gifts. For about 1,000 local volunteers at the D.C. Jewish Community Center, Christmas Day is a time for giving back.
They fed the homeless, donated blood and looked on as their children made special holiday cards and visited nursing homes.
Members of the acappella group Makela greeted the volunteers at the entrance to the DCJCC, singing Psalm 122 in Hebrew, the sweet melody caressing the soul as the words spoke of peace and coming together.
Meanwhile, a band of carolers from Makela was busy at a different venue, serenading those in need at a D.C. shelter with songs of the season.
"Service is a mitzah -- a good deed," says Makela's Noah Mamber of D.C. He sums up why so many people gave their time and talent to help others on Christmas Day.
Erica Steen, director of community engagement at the DCJCC, says it is the biggest day of service of the year. She says the "D25" event is a time when "people really, truly give out of the kindness of their hearts."
The volunteers encompass all ages and a variety of faiths. Jews, Christians and Muslims all came together to bring a little holiday joy to those less fortunate.
Many arrived at the DCJCC for their assignments with the whole family in tow. David Green of Silver Spring participated with his wife and two small daughters.
"We wanted to teach the kids some good values about giving back to their communities," he says. "It is a time when you can really help people out."
The Green family went to the Stoddard Baptist Nursing Home in D.C. In a room off the DCJCC lobby filled with books, other children carefully outlined their hands on paper, turning the drawings into greeting cards that would accompany gifts of food.
Johanna Potts is with the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington and helped organize the project, watching as children and adults cut around the traced hands and wrote messages inside.
"There is a message of 'take my hand and we will walk together, here is a hand of friendship,'" she says.
Those in the room were a rainbow of different races and faiths. T.J. Taty of D.C. came with her sister and 2-year-old twins, putting off their Christmas celebration until later in the day.
"We wanted to start a family tradition this year of bringing our children to an event that would touch people's lives and help them on this special day," she says.
Meanwhile, a very different tradition going on in the DCJCC gymnasium, where a team from Inova Health was conducting a blood drive.
"We are here every Christmas Day," says team leader Shawn Kennedy, noting that blood supplies tend to run low around the holidays.
As he signed his paperwork, Daniel Michelson-Horowitz noted that his blood donation is, in a way, a Christmas gift to someone he will never meet.
"I recognize there are people in need," he says. "I wanted to do what I can to make this time of year a little more joyous."
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