The lattice wood sukkah built on the grounds of Congregation Beth El is adorned in plastic fruit and vegetables representing the final gathering of produce for the season, which is celebrated by the Jewish holiday of Sukkot.

Although the decorations are not edible they are reminders of the bountiful fall harvest and draw a sharp contrast to the empty pantries of the people in need, who are relying more heavily on charitable organizations for meals and groceries, among them Operation Hope, the Fairfield-based agency that operates a homeless shelter, community kitchen and pantry, and transitional housing programs.

The Sisterhood of Congregation Beth El's annual Interfaith Sukkot Luncheon raises money for Operation Hope and other feeding programs in the area. At the 37th annual luncheon on Tuesday, the mistress of ceremonies, Tara Cook-Littman, told the audience of about 180 people she is proud "to live in a community where people take care of our friends and neighbors."

Cook-Littman said she also is grateful to be born into a family that emphasized community service. She recalled New Year's Eve when she was 17 years old and her parents insisted she work first preparing and serving meals at Operation Hope before she could go to a party. Cook-Littman said she doesn't remember much about the party or even who she kissed at midnight, but she does remember the gratitude of the people she fed that night.

Statistics provided by Carla Miklos, executive director of Operation Hope who was not able to attend the event, said last year the food pantry served more than 475 households with food to make more than 105,000 meals. The community kitchen served another 32,000 meals. Additionally, 175 individuals and families were served by the shelter; Operation Hope helped 65 families affected by the economic downturn to avoid homelessness and helped another 49 homeless families find secure, affordable housing.

According to Miklos, more than 1,000 volunteers from about 15 local houses of worship collect food, prepare meals, and do other work in the food pantry.

That collaboration is represented in the four species of the Sukkot, said Rabbi Daniel Satlow, of Congregation Beth El. Holding the species -- a lulav, or the youngest shoot or branch of a palm tree, a willow branch, myrtle branch and an etrog, or elongated yellow fruit that resembles a lemon -- Satlow told the audience the four species represent all things in the world and come together as one, just as people must come together and work together.

"We hope events like this will move us all," he said. "You can't have one political party or one religious organization. It takes all of us," Satlow said.

The Rev. Matthew Calkins, rector of St. Timothy's Episcopal Church, said Tuesday's interfaith gathering "shows our civic spirit" and serves as a reminder that all people, in a sense, are neighbors.

Even the keynote speaker, Westport resident Nina Sankovitch, author of "Tolstoy and the Purple Chair," talked about the importance of sharing, although in her case in addition to the sharing of self it is also about sharing stories and memories. Sankovitch shared with the audience her joyful childhood memories, most of which centered around books, the painful memory of the death of her sister Anne-Marie, to cancer in 2005, and the journey back to a "palmy" or fruitful, bountiful, happy life through reading books.

Until her sister's death, Sankovitch said she lived a "palmy" life, relating the word to Sukkot and the lulav. She read one book a day for a year, which is the subject of her book.

"Books helped me get over my sorrow," she said. Books also broaden a person's experiences and help them make connections to others. "Your empathy is larger," she said. "There is magic in reading."

"I thought she was great for all generations, who can relate to everything she was talking about -- joy, sorrow, memories and the importance of sharing. That's what makes a community. We don't live in a vacuum," said Fran Glucroft of Fairfield, president of the Sisterhood of Congregation Beth El.

Glucroft's mother, Bernice Joffe, formerly of Fairfield and now living in Bridgeport, encouraged people to consider volunteering for Operation Hope as she does once a week. "They need all the help they can get, it's a worthwhile cause and you do see the results," she said.

The Interfaith Sukkot Luncheon gave people an opportunity to visit the synagogue's sukkah, which is also decorated with children's artwork.