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Hug in a Jug: Lovingkindness in Southern California

Volunteer program delivers special care packages to seniors

By , Aliso Viejo, California

If you could put friendship in a dish, what edible might it contain Rabbi Tzali and Rochel Leah Stillerman have chosen chicken soup, and they serve this “Hug in a Jug” with smiles in Aliso Viejo and Laguna Woods, California. 

The inspiration and partial funding for the project came from Vivian Ronkin, who lives in the Laguna Woods senior community. “I call her the Bubbe of the village,” said Stillerman. Vivian has her finger on the pulse of fellow seniors in Laguna Woods and constantly asks Rabbi Stillerman to check up on them. The Stillermans figured that regular visits to the seniors of the area would keep everyone in contact, and Hug in a Jug was born.

The soup is made by the Stillermans at the synagogue and sometimes at their home. While it’s still hot, it’s put in containers and brought to the seniors. 

“They deliver to me every week,” Vivian related. “I live on my own, and it’s nice to have a friendly visitor.”

What goes around comes around. Hug in a Jug would give Vivian a huge service in return. Stillerman, who delivers chicken soup to Vivian every Friday, realized he hadn’t heard from her for a few days. This was not usual for the “Bubbe of the village”.

Stillerman tried calling and knocking on her door. Her car was in the driveway, and he could hear the phone ringing in the house. Worried, Stillerman called security, who rushed over and found her unconscious. 

It would be a life-saving visit. 

The incident moved more people to get involved. Children join their parents, and seniors themselves deliver chicken soup to other seniors. For seniors who grew up seeing their grandmothers making them chicken soup, the visits offer nostalgic hugs from long ago. 

Stillerman recalled one particularly dedicated senior who passed away recently. “He would come every week to deliver. I would thank him, and he would say, ‘No, thank you for the opportunity.’ He would thank G-d that he had two feet and that he was healthy at ninety-five. He wanted to share that.”

“I thought we were doing this for the seniors, but we keep hearing that it’s the volunteers who are benefitting,” Stillerman said. “These seniors have gone through the Holocaust, the Great Depression and other circumstances. They share how they’ve overcome these challenges. The younger generation learns from the seniors, and vice versa. It bridges the gap.” 


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