Freida Rochel Atkins—all of 7 years old—has been especially busy these past few weeks.

She was recently in and out of the hospital due to severe anaphylaxis, a condition that happens sometimes; her body can produce too much histamine. But that didn’t stop her from arranging to send more than 100 cans of macaroons to U.S. military troops in anticipation of Passover, which begins at sundown on Monday, April 14.

The 160 cans—packaged with notes of thanks and support—were collected from children and adults across America. Freida worked with her mother, Sara Atkins, in addition to friends and family to spread the word.

Atkins specifically wanted to send the packages overseas, she said, to those serving in locations like Afghanistan and Iraq.

She was assisted by her friend, Hannah Rose Brophy, also 7, who with her mom, Erica Rose, helped with the fundraising and went to pick up macaroons from various stores.

As Brownie Juliettes of the Girl Scouts of Eastern Pennsylvania—an independent Girl Scout program—the second-graders are guided by their mothers as opposed to being part of a troop, mainly because of Freida’s medical issues.

“We had been learning about community and connections to people,” said Sara Atkins. The project came about from that.

The Atkins are active with Chabad of Penn Wynne in Wynnewood, Pa., a suburb of Philadelphia, co-directed by Rabbi Moishe and Devorah Brennan, whom she said have been very supportive.

Freida displays the $25 gift cards donated to the effort by two local supermarkets for purchasing supplies.
Freida displays the $25 gift cards donated to the effort by two local supermarkets for purchasing supplies.

One Project Turns Into Another

“What are our communities, who do you identify with as part of our community?” Atkins asked Frieda during a conversation last fall. She and her daughter discussed how Chabad shluchim live and work all over the world, connected through the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory.

She replied: “Mama, how can I help the Jewish community?”

Since Chanukah was approaching, they thought of the Jewish men and women in the military, and how they could use a reminder of home and the holiday. Atkins said as part of the Girl Scout program, they work to identify an issue and how to take action towards it. So the two searched the Internet and brainstormed.

They connected with Rabbi Menachem Katz of the Florida-based Aleph Institute—a national organization that provides religious, educational, humanitarian and social services to individuals in institutional environments.

After putting out a call to action, they managed to collect 819 Chanukah cards and sent them to Jewish soldiers in the United States and abroad.

Atkins said their effort was met with such gratitude that they were eager to undertake a similar project for Passover.

Freida, in uniform, stands next to stacks of boxes all packed and ready to be shipped.
Freida, in uniform, stands next to stacks of boxes all packed and ready to be shipped.

She said they were inspired by how the Jewish denominations came together to send Chanukah cards. “Every day, we had a mountain of packages,” she said of getting the cards in the mail. “Before we were finished, Freida was already talking about the next project. It was amazing!”

Looking for more ideas, she again spoke with Rabbi Katz.

He told her that the soldiers already receive what they need in terms of kosher-for-Passover food for seders and the eight-day holiday.

“But how about dessert?” Katz countered. And so, the rabbi recommended macaroons, which are durable and portable. He again helped by providing a mailing list.

Atkins also used Facebook to spread the word spread. Some people wanted to donate cans of macaroons. “I would come home to find them on the doorstep,” she said. Others sent checks and cash.

The girls also brought letters to their local grocery stores, Acme and Giant, which each gave them $25 to buy macaroons.

The last of the packages gets handed off to the mail carrier.
The last of the packages gets handed off to the mail carrier.

Freida, who has Tourette Syndrome and Idiopathic Anaphylaxis, was in the hospital for almost a week during all of this. “But it was all hashgacha pratis (Divine Providence),” her mother said cheerfully.

Even during her ups and downs, Frieda—with the help of her four siblings—packed the boxes and affixed the shipping labels, despite being heavily medicated. Whenever she was awake, she worked on the project, reported her mother, who added that “it was a good distraction from her medical issues … and a good lesson.”

‘Happy to Help’

Then came another challenge—finding a way to pay for the shipping. Sara Atkins' father suggested that she contact Rabbi Levi Shemtov, executive vice president of American Friends of Lubavitch (Chabad) in Washington, D.C., for advice.

“Frieda and her mom—and everyone involved—worked very hard to get macaroons sent to the troops for Passover. It was a great project and a big mitzvah,” said Rabbi Levi Shemtov.

He requested a letter from Frieda and some pictures that he could use to help them get some support.

“When they told us their funding fell through, I helped find some sponsors. One of them was a former soldier who said how much he appreciated getting macaroons around Pesach time,” he said.

Everything finally came together.

“He saved the day by helping get sponsors for the shipping when our original donor backed out,” said Atkins.

As the last shipment of coconut-based treats sat packed on her doorstep, Atkins and her daughter, who said she was “happy to be able to help the soldiers,” awaited the mail carrier. Her mom even snapped a few photos as the final boxes were put in the truck and taken away.

“She’s already asked me what we can do next. For a child that has so many challenges, she’s been able to find an outlet that she succeeds at,” she said. “It’s actually giving her a foundation to do big mitzvah projects, which is pretty awesome.”