As part of a Kindness Week initiative, PJ Library is partnering with a grassroots project to create a special program that teaches the values of chesed (kindness) and tzedek (justice) while helping women in need.
Ten years ago, Jewish community member Robyn Aaron began a personal labour of love to help bring support to pregnant women in need. Now as part of a Kindness Week initiative, she is partnering with the Jewish Federation of Ottawa’s PJ Library in a special program that will allow young children to help newborn babies and their mothers.
“I’m a big fan of Kindness Week and I’m inspired that Emily [Litvack, PJ Library's Engagement specialist] had the brilliant idea to involve little kiddos in helping other babies!" says Aaron about the upcoming event, which is being held Feb. 26 from 1- 3 pm at the Soloway JCC, and aims to support positive parenting and to help mentor healthy families in Ottawa. Families will have a hands-on meaningful day of volunteering and learning the values of chesed (kindness) and tzedek (justice).
“It’s going to be a very inspiring and fun afternoon,” says Litvack, as she expresses her gratitude to Aaron for her leadership and contribution to the event. “There will be family-friendly activities, like making handmade toys and wall hangings for baby, and encouragement cards for the moms-to-be, as well as packing labour bags, which are part of Robyn’s Labour of Love project, and of course, there will be a PJ Library story time.”
Aaron developed the Labour of Love Project after she started volunteering for Mothercraft Ottawa in the 2000s as a birth companion. At the time, she was partnered with underserved moms and helped as their support person during pregnancy and labour, and also visited postpartum after the baby arrived.
“I was so moved by the program at Mothercraft. They serve some of the most underserved moms in Ottawa (adolescents, newcomers, and women leaving abusive relationships). It was such an honour and privilege to be there with these moms during this special and vulnerable time,” says Aaron. “I was inspired to join this program because I wanted to provide support for survivors of trauma in this next chapter of their life, as women were becoming moms.”
Eventually, Aaron, who is now a mother of a four-year-old, realized she could support the program in another much-needed and special way.
"My idea was to provide labour support bags (overnight bags). The [Mothercraft] program said this was actually a good fit with their priorities, so Labour of Love was created - and that was over 10 years ago now.”
Aaron recalls the early days of the project when some of her closest girlfriends would come over to her place to help.
“These wonderful women would bring donations of personal care items to fill the labour bags. I remember our first event: we built four bags I believe. We are now building 18 bags every year, thanks to all the wonderful women who are so generous with their donations.”
During COVID, Aaron switched to a virtual fundraiser with contactless drop-offs. She adds that last year was a special year because they received approximately 30 hand-made baby quilts, donated by the Temple Israel quilters.
“This is the first year since the start of COVID that we will once again be able to gather in my home and we are so excited,” says Aaron, adding that this year is also special since it is “the first year we are opening up Labour of Love to the community more broadly. We are honoured to be partnering with Jewish Federation of Ottawa and PJ Library Ottawa for Kindness Week, and doing so is going to double our impact – 36 labour bags is our goal, instead of the regular 18.”
For Aaron, who has worked in children’s rights for about 15 years, supporting babies and their families as well as survivors of trauma, was very important to her.
“I’m really passionate about supporting parents to break intergenerational cycles of family violence and trauma, so supporting moms who have been through so much in their lives means a lot to me.”
Aaron hopes that sharing about her Labour of Love project will help the community and open up discussions so that people can see that transitioning to parenthood can be a challenging time and that there are ways we can help make that transition easier for new parents.
“Part of that might be volunteering in the community, participating in Kindness Week, or reaching out to friends who are becoming parents,” says Aaron. “Another big part of this is to try to open up discussions around parenting and mental health. A lot of new moms experience mental health challenges in the early months of parenthood, and dads can experience these challenges too.”
For those interested in attending the PJ Library Kindness event, please register here: https://jewishottawa.redpodium.com/pj-kindness-week. Also please consider donating a personal care item, from the list below, or a new baby book.
- Deodorant (full size, brand new)
- Toothbrushes (individually packaged) (No toothpaste!)
- Lip balm (individually packaged)
- Newborn diapers (in a sealed package)
- Baby wipes
- Heavy pads (in a sealed package)
For more information, please contact Emily at elitvack@JewishOttawa.com