Hadassah Rhode Island invites its members and friends to celebrate Hadassah’s decades of volunteer work at the Warwick Mall during the holiday season. The Gift Wrapping Golden Jubilee Potluck will take place on June 11.
Over the years, the gift-wrapping fundraisers have helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for medical research and treatments in the two world-class Hadassah medical centers in Israel.
The history of the gift-wrapping initiative began with Ruth Shaffer in the mid-1970s, when she was the president of the Pawtucket Chapter. Shaffer had been to a mall in Massachusetts where a local Hadassah chapter had made $200 by wrapping gifts. She thought it was something that Pawtucket should try.
Pawtucket Chapter member Sarah Cokin contacted Lloyd Bliss, an owner of the Warwick Mall, to ask about getting a spot where the chapter could try to raise money doing wrapping. They were given a spot in front of Jordan Marsh for 10 days before Christmas. That first year they made $500.
The following year, they were stationed at the other end of the mall, in front of Peerless, where they stayed for a few years, until they moved to the current location, near JCPenney.
Abe Gershman was a professional department-store visual merchandiser, and taught the gift-wrappers how to make basic florist bows to put on the packages, as well as helping with the actual wrapping.
Sarah Cokin and Ruth Kimel – Abe Gershman’s sister – saw bigger potential in the project. They took apart a bow from Filene’s, and Jack Cokin, Sarah’s husband, used it to design a flat bow that was perfect for packages. They also created a round bow for use on smaller packages.
The ribbon was bought wholesale at a supply house in Fall River. All the bows were decorated with a garland and trim that was purchased on sale and then taken apart to refashion. The women had work sessions at various homes, where they would set up assembly lines to make and trim the bows. Bow-making was done much of the year and became a social event for the women.
Many meetings were held at the home of Trudie Marks. To be a gift-wrapper, volunteers had to pass Marks’ high standards. If you couldn’t wrap, you could cashier or help keep the workplace clean.
Sarah Cokin was a master at getting area manufacturers to donate wrapping paper, boxes and tissue paper.
To help ease the strain of standing and wrapping for hours, Jack Cokin constructed risers, which are still in use. A sign was also created, informing the customers that the wrappers were members of Hadassah and all volunteers, and that all proceeds would go to support cancer research.
As the project grew, the need for storage grew, so the chapter rented a storage facility. Part of the rent was forgiven in return for an ad in the chapter’s ad book.
Ruth Kimel and Sarah Cokin helped run the project for years. All of Kimel’s family – men included – have participated in it as well. As reported in a news story on NBC 10 WJAR in December, the family is in its fourth generation of wrapping!
The core group of women – and men – who were the project’s mainstay while it was the Pawtucket fundraiser were Sarah and Jack Cokin, Lillian Fellner, Goldie Goldstein (pipe-cleaner twister), Gert Katz (Mrs. Sweep), Ruth Kimel, Trudie Marks, Gert Max, Dottie Rosen, Ruth Shaffer, Eva Zucker and Jan Ziegler.
By the early 1990s, the seven Hadassah chapters in Rhode Island – Providence, Pawtucket, Cranston-Warwick, Kent County, Newport, South County and Woonsocket – had merged into one Rhode Island Chapter, with seven groups and a Nurses’ Council.
When the Pawtucket group had trouble getting enough volunteers for evenings, members asked the Kent group for help.
The Kent wrapping volunteers were trained by Trudie Marks, in the then-chapter office, on her wrapping techniques – most importantly, using double-sided tape so that no tape shows. They were also trained on how to make the bows.
After a few more years, gift-wrapping became a project for the whole chapter.
Now, the bows are still made by hand, but simplified from the original design. A few of the supplies are donated, but most are now purchased. And the trademark double-sided tape is still used. The risers are still in use, but have been repaired and re-covered. The wrapping begins 8 to 10 days before Christmas, with about 50 volunteers, and raises thousands of dollars each year.
The Gift Wrapping Golden Jubilee Potluck will be a dairy brunch at a home in North Kingstown on June 11, at 11 a.m. For more information, please email email@example.com.
Hadassah, founded in 1912 by Henrietta Szold, connects Jewish women and empowers them to effect change through advocacy, advancing health and well-being, and support of Israel.
PAMELA GERSHMAN COHEN and JUDY SILVERMAN are longtime Hadassah members.