“Do you think it would be a good idea to change our fundraising goal from $25,000 to $30,000?”
It’s unusual for groups holding an online fundraiser for the food bank to increase the total amount of money they are hoping to raise midway through their campaign. But Michelle Engelmann from Temple Sinai Women of Reform Judaism was confident that they’d achieve their goal.
Since before the COVID-19 pandemic, Temple Sinai has come together to support the Capital Area Food Bank and communities in need. During the fall, Michelle organizes their annual fall High Holidays fund drive, which raised more than $35,200 in 2023.
The funds raised in connection with the High Holidays — Yom Kippur, which is the Day of Atonement, and Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year — provided more than 70,400 meals for our neighbors facing hunger. We spoke with Michelle to learn more about what motivates their community to hold this annual fundraiser, and how they grow their success year after year.
Capital Area Food Bank: Temple Sinai Women of Reform Judaism has fundraised online for the High Holidays for the past four years. What inspired you to start the online fundraiser in 2020?
Michelle: We used to have a food drive on Yom Kippur morning, and after the morning services, the Capital Area Food Bank would pick up all of the cans and boxes. That gradually got bigger but became so huge and difficult to coordinate. As I learned more about CAFB and the best way to serve the people experiencing hunger, I learned how much better it would be if we donated money so CAFB could purchase the food at a much better rate.
So I started doing a combined food and fund drive before the COVID-19 pandemic, and then during the pandemic, with services and everything on Zoom, it was really easy to make the transition to an online fund drive. I think it worked out really well and it’s taken off now.
CAFB: Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement in the Jewish faith, with many choosing to fast for the day. Why do you choose this time of year at the High Holidays to gather donations?
Michelle: Temple Sinai is focused on food and fasting in a way that a lot of synagogues are. In publicizing the campaign, we’ve suggested to those that are fasting that they can donate the money they would’ve spent on food for that day. But I also like to talk about it in terms of helping the community. While we’re focused on whether or not we can eat in a painless fasting, what is it like if somebody is fasting and it’s not their choice?
CAFB: This year, close to 120 donors participated in the campaign. What do you do to prepare for such a large-scale fundraiser?
Michelle: Since Yom Kippur is in September, I usually start in late summer about a month or two before the campaign begins. We set up the online fundraising page in advance, collect facts and statistics about hunger in the region, and prepare our publicity and outreach.
CAFB: How do you share this fundraising opportunity with members of the temple? How do you spread the word?
Michelle: A month before the fundraiser begins, I start including it in our four newsletters. I put out really dynamic facts about hunger and the need in our community, which I try to change during the course of the fundraiser. “Over a million people in the DMV region not knowing where their next meals is coming from,” was a big one. Including the fact that $20 can feed a family of four for four to five days also helped people to know how much good they’re doing by making donations. I also publicize that they can donate however they want—online through a credit card, they can send a check, or use their donor-advised funds.
CAFB: Are you planning on hosting the High Holidays fundraiser again? If so, what are your goals for 2024
Michelle: I’m planning to have the fundraiser again! Even if I weren’t able to, someone from the Temple Sinai Women of Reform Judaism would continue it.
Our goals, as always, are to surpass whatever we achieved in the past years. This year was the first year we offered donations through donor-advised funds, so we want to have that option as well as the online fundraise and ability for people to write and mail checks. We also want to come for a tour and volunteer in the warehouse!