One of South Florida’s more impressive stories of giving in this time of Thanksgiving began 28 years ago with a bat mitzvah.
Sheila Stieglitz’s daughter Alison, then 12, was about to have her religious transition into adulthood, and her parents — publicist Sheila and attorney Stephen — decided to commemorate the service in a meaningful way.
“Because it was around Thanksgiving we made centerpieces filled with things that would be a nice dinner. Ally paid for the centerpieces with money she received out of her gifts,” Stieglitz says.
“Thirteen baskets, 13 turkeys, in honor of 13 family members and close friends who meant something to Ally,” Mom remembers.
Ultimately, those original Thanksgiving centerpieces were delivered to clients of the nonprofit United HomeCare. Family and friends were so touched by Ally’s idea, the original 13 centerpieces grew to 25 for the next Thanksgiving. The following year, it was 75. The baskets, each containing a cooked 10-pound turkey, were assembled by family and friends in the Stieglitz’s Pinecrest home. Because Jewish law promotes the concept of anonymous giving, the care baskets were picked up and delivered to families by representatives from United HomeCare, a home health agency that currently serves 5,000 low-income elderly clients in Miami-Dade.
By 1989, when Alison was 17, she was invited to the White House to receive the President’s Volunteer Action Award. She sat next to President George H.W. Bush and George Romney, Mitt’s father, her mom says. Alison’s baskets project was described in a chapter in American Civics, a high school textbook. When she went off to college in Philadelphia as an English major, her sister Leigh helped manage the Thanksgiving funding and project. Since 1991, the project’s love and attention has been under their parents’ care.
This year, at least 430 families will feast from one of the Stieglitz-inspired baskets, making 2012 the biggest Thanksgiving delivery yet to UnitedHome Care clients. And the last under the leadership of the Stieglitz. The family is passing the tradition on to another family who will take over a smooth and efficient operation.
Corporations such as Publix, Winn-Dixie, Whole Foods, Leon Medical Centers, Univision, Procter & Gamble, Deutsche Bank and others have pitched in over the years through in-kind donations, reduced pricing, deliveries to families in need or providing volunteers to help assemble the baskets. Each basket can feed about six, and funds that are raised beyond the cost of the goods help various charities.
“The Stieglitz tradition with United HomeCare is in line with our mission to make a difference in the lives of individuals we serve. The Stieglitzes have donated 2,000 baskets since 1985. We’re honored to be a part of the Stieglitz family tradition,” says Vianca Rosas, executive manager for innovation and research.
“As much as it us, it is a community project,” Sheila Stieglitz insists. From the earliest days, family and friends have pitched in to help assemble, share stories and catch up on each others’ lives.
“They come every year, one comes from Naples just to assemble baskets. It seems to be an easy way for everyone to do something for someone else and to feel good about it. Thanksgiving welcomes everyone. There’s no religious connection to it, so there is something for every community. We’re all together,” Stieglitz says.