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Eva Derby brings creative holidays to older adults and more

When Eva Derby and her husband, Albert, moved to the Lehigh Valley four years ago, Eva asked herself what she liked to do. The retired counselor came up with two answers:  helping people and grocery shopping. So, her first volunteer position at JFS assisting clients at the Community Food Pantry was a perfect match.

But soon, Eva was taking on additional duties. Her interest in Judaism that had led her to studying with a rabbi’s wife for several years back in St. Louis in combination with her experience in her counseling career led her to becoming the go-to volunteer for holiday programs. JFS often visits assisted living facilities for older adults around the Jewish holidays, and Eva has accompanied Volunteer Coordinator Chelsea Karp on many trips to educate both Jewish and non-Jewish residents.

“The population in these residential facilities are such curious learners,” said Eva. “They’re so smart, so interested in everything.”

Eva always likes to do her research ahead of time to find little-known facts about the holiday and to add some fun to the presentation.

“I find some midrash off the beaten path, and we simply have a very good time. I love it!” she said.

In light of the current lockdowns due to COVID-19, the last in-person holiday Eva got to celebrate with the older adults was Purim back in March. But since then, she has recorded a video of a Sukkot presentation to be distributed to the places she would normally visit. Another video is planned for Chanukah. And she was able to visit the three residents of Tikvah House, a Jewish residence for adults with special needs, outside for a socially-distanced lesson on Sukkot.

Eva and her husband are still finding ways to be devoted volunteers of JFS despite the circumstances. Albert, a retired biology professor, has been a driver, delivering things like the produce from the Monocacy Farm Project. And Eva still works at the Community Food Pantry, as well as being part of the Friendly Caller program. She has a special relationship with an older woman whom she calls every few weeks to give a Shabbat greeting and check in. 

Overall, Eva emphasized that she was so impressed with the receptivity that she found at JFS as a volunteer.

“It’s been the best decision I made in terms of volunteer work. The very first time I went there, I knew it was the place I want to be. The vibes were good."