SHAWNEE, KS (KCTV) -- Hanukkah begins Thursday, but COVID-19 means it will look different this year.

Jewish Family Services on Monday and Tuesday delivered more than 355 gift bags for those who need a hand. Normally it’s closer to 300, but it’s not the number that’s so important this year.

“You’ll see A beautiful Hanukkah card made by local families,” said Laura Gilman, showing the contents of a gift bag.

They all have a handmade card, a gift card to a place selected by each client, a dreidel, gelt (chocolate coins that are a tradition), and one other inexpensive item for each member of the household.

“We wanted to give everyone a little something that would be meaningful, just a token,” said Gilman.

Before Gilman became director of older adult services at JFS, she was one of their social workers. KCTV5 followed her as she delivered a gift to a woman who became a client of hers seven years ago, before Gilman was moved to an administrative role.

It wasn’t a surprise. Sandy Wheeler was expecting her. Yet within five minutes tears filled her eyes.

“It means a lot,” she said to Gilman.

Wheeler is only 56 but suffers from poor health. When asked why she was so emotional this year, she said it was because of COVID-19.

“You don’t know if you’ll see the person again,” Wheeler explained. “Because a lot of people have been dying.”

She teared up several times, talking about how JFS has helped her so much over the years, but especially when talking about Gilman. 

“She stayed with me and that really honestly means a lot to me,” Wheeler said, choking up again.

“I don’t think we’ve seen an uptick in need, but I think the circumstances are certainly different this year,” said Gilman, when asked about JFS’s older adult services.

For example, she says, people now in hospitals wanted to be sure their kids got gifts.

Wheeler says she will still light the candles on her menorah, but she won’t be with the usual 20 family members.

Instead her sons will visit her, one each day.

“COVID has really been a thorn in everybody’s side, but living is much better,” Wheeler concluded.

That gift delivery is just one thing JFS does. Their other services, which are offered regardless of religious affiliation, have seen a huge increase in demand.

Demand for mental health services has almost doubled and their food pantry served 900 families in just the last month, about triple the usual. The services offered are shown below.

JFS Services Offered

Services offered by Jewish Community Services

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