People are often surprised to learn that 23,000 Jewish households in Greater Philadelphia are considered low-income and that an estimated 10,000 local Jewish households suffer from food insecurity, uncertainty as to where their next meal will come from. Hunger relief is a priority of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia's Center for Social Responsibility, Federation's social services arm, and the Mitzvah Food Pantry is a crucial part of addressing this issue.
With many people, including Jewish community members, still underemployed and unemployed, and with more at-risk community members learning about the community's food programs, the pantry continues to see an increase in requested services. In response, the Mitzvah Food Pantry recently made some changes to rise to the challenge.
In the fall of 2006, the pantry moved from Beth T'Fillah of Overbrook Park across City Avenue to the JCCs Kaiserman Branch in Wynnewood and refocused its efforts to reach the numerous Jewish households facing food insecurity in the surrounding areas. Since that move, this site has seen an approximately 30 percent increase in the number of Jewish households served.
The expansion at JCCs Kaiserman Branch is directly tied to the pantry's dedicated volunteers. At JCCs Kaiserman, volunteers make the pantry increasingly accessible to a larger geographic area by packing and delivering food packages twice a month to West Philadelphia, including Wynnefield and Overbrook Park; Delaware County, particularly Upper Darby, Drexel Hill and Havertown; and pockets in Chester County, currently Berwyn and West Chester. Deliveries include a Shabbat package of non-perishable items, a fresh produce package, and a gift certificate, or scrip, to a local grocery store. Yom Tov packages and scrip are also provided throughout the year. In addition, this Wynnewood pantry is currently providing bags for clients with special diets including low-salt and low-sugar diets.
Another positive development at the Mitzvah Food Pantry network is an increase in the amount of supermarket scrip provided to clients. In January the pantry began distributing $10 supermarket gift certificates instead of $5 at all five pantry locations, in Wynnewood, Elkins Park, Bensalem, South Philadelphia and Northeast Philadelphia. These certificates are intended to support recipients in completing their Shabbat dinner by purchasing fresh foods including meats, fruits and vegetables.
Through the dedication of over 100 volunteers who help with the regular operation of all five pantry sites as well as groups of volunteers who assist occasionally throughout the year, the pantry network served 4,200 people in 2005-2006, distributing more than 21,000 food packages. Recipients included elderly individuals and couples, single-parent families, people who are chronically ill, and those who are newly poor due to recent unemployment or a major medical problem.
Though the Mitzvah Food Pantry is serving more Jewish households, there is still much more we must do to reduce food insecurity in our community. You can help by making a donation directly to the pantry between March 1 and April 30; see the sidebar above for details.
For more information, call the Jewish Information and Referral Service at 215-832-0821.