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Beth Shalom members feed emergency crews

L ike many other emergency responders, James Carver knows it's tough to find a place to have a hot meal for lunch while working Christmas Day.

Luckily, Carver on Friday got himself and his co-workers some freshly made vegetarian four-cheese lasagna with garlic bread, salad, brownies and Christmas cookies, thanks to volunteers at Congregation Beth Shalom.

"I think it's fantastic," said Carver, a supervisor at American Medical Response ambulance company. "It's actually great to have someone think about us today."

For the second consecutive year, Congregation Beth Shalom made it easier to find a hot meal for emergency responders working Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

The Jewish congregation served and delivered more than 200 free lasagna dinners and lunches to police officers, sheriff's deputies, firefighters and ambulance medics working Thursday and Friday in Stanislaus County.

"They're working, and there's not too many places open for them to stop and eat," said Joyce Gandelman, president of Congregation Beth Shalom. "This is our way to thank emergency responders who have to work on the holiday and be away from their families."

She said the idea for the meals came from the congregation's desire to do more mitzvah projects — good deeds that help the community.

After reading a newspaper article about a church in Lodi that took on a similar project in the past, Flo Loeffler decided her Jewish congregation should try it in Modesto.

"We don't celebrate Christmas, so obviously this is our chance to give back to the community," said Loeffler, who was one of the key organizers, along with Tom Gough.

Last year, volunteers served about 75 kosher turkey meals to emergency responders at the central Modesto synagogue.

About 12 of those meals were delivered to elderly shut-ins who live alone.

Gandelman said some of the leftover meals were given to homeless people throughout Modesto.

The volunteers did the same this year, delivering about 20 meals to elderly people and giving leftover meals to the homeless.

This year, the congregation made more takeout meals than meals to serve at the synagogue.

The volunteers delivered about 180 meals to emergency responders who couldn't get away from work, including deputies working at the county's jail facilities and emergency dispatchers.

Their decision to make more takeout meals came after several Modesto police officers were called to respond to a shooting last year and weren't able to finish their meals at the synagogue, Gandelman said.

The congregation decided to make lasagna after organizers were not able to get turkeys this year. Gandelman said the lasagna works better for many emergency responders, who have turkey dinners waiting for them at home when they get off of work.

She said several Modesto businesses, including Raley's, Wal-Mart, Chefs of New York Pizzeria, Word-of-Mouth Baking and Uno Chicago Grill, donated gift cards for groceries or food to put the meals together.

Also, several congregation members donated cash and others volunteered their time to feed the emergency responders.

Carver had just started a 24-hour shift at AMR when he arrived at the synagogue to pick up about 25 takeout meals. He said their holiday shifts are usually calm, and Friday was starting out the same way.

"Hopefully, it stays that way," Carver said.

Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at or 578-2394.