By Monica Friess
A Syracuse-based social action organization founded to provide toiletries and household cleaning products to people in need recently made its way to our own Jewish Family Service via 15-year-old founder Adena Rochelson and a chance Allentown connection.
Rochelson, founder of “Operation Soap Dish,” recently delivered a large number of boxes of toiletries to JFS.
“This is such a welcome gift and a wonderful surprise,” JFS Executive Director Debbie Zoller said of the donation.
For Rochelson, it began with a trip to a local food pantry in 2009. “I noticed that one shelf with a few rolls of toilet paper and a couple of bars of soap was almost always empty,” she said. “I also learned that food stamps could only be used to buy food. Soda is OK; soap isn’t.”
She decided she would do what she could to change that situation. With her $4.50 weekly allowance money as well as deposits collected from returned cans and bottles, Rochelson began purchasing items for the local pantry. She also began reaching out to the community to promote awareness of this need and to collect donations. Operation Soap Dish was the result, and to date, over 28,000 items (28,914 to be exact; Rochelson personally counts and logs each item) have been collected and donated to locations throughout the Syracuse area such as food pantries, the Ronald McDonald House and shelters for women and children escaping domestic abuse.
Zoller said that JFS seeks out these items, but doesn’t often get them. “Our clients are so appreciative when we can provide this,” she said. “What Adena is doing is fantastic. She is a great role model.”
“One of my goals,” said Rochelson, “is to help anyone I can in any community.”
Because she has ties that bring her family to Allentown – her sister is a freshman at Muhlenberg College – members of the Lehigh Valley community are now benefitting from her kindness. In addition to JFS, a large number of items were donated to Haven House, a nonprofit, outpatient community mental health clinic in the Lehigh Valley. "For the clients at Haven House, amazing Adena's Operation Soap Dish has made a difference,” said Haven House board member Bev Wasserman. “We are grateful for this dedicated young person.”
Rochelson was last year’s recipient of the Diller Teen Tikun Olam Award, which recognizes 15 Jewish U.S. teens for exceptional leadership and engagement in service projects. She was also awarded a Kohl’s Cares scholarship for making a difference in her community. Operation Soap Dish has made national and even international news, as a JTA article was just picked up by the Times of Israel. For Rochelson, this is still a bit overwhelming and surreal. “I started doing this because I saw I could play a small role in helping my community,” she said. “It’s nice to know that so many others support my vision.”
For more information on Operation Soap Dish, visit www.operationsoapdish.org.