Some may find it hard to believe, but hunger is a real and pressing issue in the Greater Philadelphia Jewish community. An estimated 5,700 Jewish households are in dire need of assistance.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia's Center for Social Responsibility is mandated to direct resources in the community to help low-income Jews receive proper nourishment. According to center director David Rosenberg, "We are now taking a more comprehensive approach to increasing services to low-income Jews and enhancing hunger-fighting efforts. Instead of filling holes here and there, we are also coordinating these efforts with other organizations to enhance case management and help more community members in need connect to public benefits."
Through a variety of programs, the center makes it easier for people of all ages to access available services and ensure that no one is denied proper nourishment.
Federation's Mitzvah Food Pantry program, with more than 100 volunteers, has been impacting lives for nearly a decade. It serves 2,300 people monthly by offering nutritious food packages at five distribution centers. Volunteers also deliver food packages into homes when necessary.
"Our programs are evolving based on needs in the community," explained Mitzvah Project coordinator Jessica Charmont. For example, senior distribution programs were added at the Jewish Community Centers' Stiffel Senior Center and the Golden Slipper Center for Seniors.
Special packages for Shabbat and holidays are offered through the food pantry.
Said Rosenberg: "We are not only providing hunger relief, we are also connecting people to their Jewish heritage while preserving their dignity."
Shabbat packages include nonperishable food items, supermarket coupons and a newsletter about nutrition. Charmont added that coupons enable people to supplement Shabbat meals by purchasing items like a fresh challah or chicken.
"We have also begun focusing more on getting the word out about food-stamp availability," she said. "Some people coming to the food pantry are eligible for food stamps and not receiving them."
By working with the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger, the center educates people while offering needed assistance, like filling out an application or determining the amount of eligibility.
Another way that Federation addresses hunger is by partnering with the Jewish Relief Agency, a Project of Guideline Services, Lubavitch House, which has made great strides since being founded by Marc Erlbaum and Rabbi Menachem Schmidt in 2000. Today, more than 3,000 volunteers, with 500 participating each month, deliver food staples – and compassion – to a diverse population.
"What makes the JRA unique is that, in addition to delivering food to 4,000 low-income Jews, volunteers also deliver a sense of community and happiness," said JRA chair Daniel Erlbaum. "It is this relationship that makes what we do so extraordinary."
He added that the JRA is often a multigenerational effort, where parents involve children: "In terms of teaching the value of tzedakah, there is no better way to do so than to bring children into these homes, where they actually experience the need and the difference their actions make."
To learn more, call 215-832-0855.