LettersToLove-LaCon

La Convivencia’s mission is to embrace diversity within our shared humanity to create peace in our communities, said Tasneem Sultan, the organization’s founder and president. There’s no better time to do that than during the winter holidays.

For the last two years, La Convivencia has hosted a day of service in December, packed with youth-oriented activities aimed at bringing together people of all faiths and cultures to give back to the community.

“In 2019, nearly 300 youth and adults of many cultures and faiths met at the Dutch Neck Presbyterian Church,” Sultan said. “During the activities, they also enjoyed performances of classical Indian dance and a martial arts demonstration. The Holiday Day of Service is an annual event where volunteers gather to give back in the spirit of the holidays that is a tradition present in diverse faiths and cultures.”

The day usually consists of decorating cookies, packing personal care items, wrapping presents and writing holiday greeting cards. Everything created on the day of service is donated to local social service agencies, like Arm in Arm and RISE.

“In addition, varied groups are invited to showcase arts and crafts reflecting their cultures like making paper Islamic lanterns, learning how to write a message of hope in Chinese calligraphy, and performing traditional holiday music and dance,” Sultan said. “Attendees can build cross-cultural relationships and enjoy ethnic food.”

This year’s event, though, will look a little different. The West Windsor-based group will host a Parade of Lights Dec. 5 from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. Participants are encouraged to decorate their cars with lights and drive through a collection station at the tennis court parking lot on Hendrickson Drive (across from High School South) where they can deliver personal care items in their trunk for no contact removal by La Convivencia’s team, Arm In Arm and RISE members. Items include dental hygiene products, baby wipes, diapers, shampoo, conditioner and more. The organization asks that all drive-through volunteers wear facemasks.

Participants can also post pictures to La Convivencia’s Facebook page using the hashtags #sharethelight and #coexistlaconvivencia.

La Convivencia’s younger members have also been active. The Youth Council has been creating letters, notes and cards on their own for community distribution.

“Youth Council co-leader Anha, based on her experience volunteering with Artis Senior Living, inspired the Letters to Love project and the team ran with it,” Sultan said. “The Youth Council is also writing messages to adults with disabilities in group homes of Enable, Inc., and for Arm In Arm that provides the basic needs of food and shelter to families in need. Writing Letters to Love simply shows that we don’t forget not only the older residents of our state but also those who may not have families to eat dinner and connect with during the holidays.”

Completed cards can be mailed to La Convivencia, P.O. Box 331, Princeton Junction, NJ 08550. Deadline is Dec. 8.

The organization has transitioned its in-person presentations and conferences to online monthly virtual dialogues held over Zoom. Sultan said speakers from across the state discuss interfaith, social justice, understanding local policing policies and learning about New Jersey’s Indigenous people. The Youth Council’s work is also done entirely online, including a new blog on La Conviviencia’s website. All marketing, education and volunteer recruitment is now run through social media.

“One of the most difficult things has been raising funds during COVID,” Sultan said. “La Convivencia is a volunteer-run organization and it has expenses such as hosting its website, monthly Zoom fees, purchasing materials for events, providing honorariums to speakers, etc. Since La Convivencia does not charge for any activities, it solely relies on donations from those who participate in its online efforts. La Convivencia requests people to donate generously to continue their work…La Convivencia persists to do its work in whatever ways possible and continues to reflect on what more we can do to positively impact our community.”

For more information about the organization, visit laconvivencia.org.