Personal need sparked Jolie Fromm to undertake a project that has provided gastronomic benefits to members of Monmouth County’s observant Jewish community at a time when “comfort food” is greatly appreciated.
In the spring of 2009, during the hospitalization of an elderly family member on a Jewish holiday, Fromm found herself as a visitor unable to access kosher food at CentraState Medical Center in Freehold.
“Kosher food was available to patients, but not generally to their visitors,” Fromm told NJJN in an e-mail exchange. “And because it was a holiday, leaving the hospital to obtain kosher food was not a practical option.”
Recognizing that CentraState serves large numbers of Orthodox and kosher-observant Jews, Fromm reasoned that an on-premises kosher food pantry would be greatly appreciated by those who had family members in the hospital during Shabbat or a yom tov.
The Freehold resident took her idea to the hospital administration and simultaneously contacted the JCC of Western Monmouth County and a few area rabbis to discuss the situation.
Early support came from Rabbi Ephraim Karp, then the community chaplain for Jewish Federation of Monmouth County, as well as the Rev. Lisa Lancaster, the hospital’s director of pastoral care; Gary Triolo, its director of food service; and ultimately John T. Gribbin, CentraState’s president and CEO.
Fromm said, “CentraState agreed to provide space for the kosher pantry. I was responsible for providing the physical cabinetry and its stock. I also was responsible for raising the funds needed to make the pantry a reality.”
She succeeded in getting the JCC to include the venture as a line item on its budget, secured the services of Rabbi Symcha Zylberberg (Karp’s successor as community chaplain) as halachic adviser, and met with Robert Kaszirer, the owner and administrator of Wedgwood Gardens Care Center, a rehab and long-term care facility located in Freehold.
“Mr. Kaszirer was more than happy to sponsor the cabinetry and help stock the pantry,” said Fromm. Pine Park Kitchens of Lakewood designed and constructed the six-foot-high cabinet and a matching credenza, which Kaszirer then donated to the hospital. It is located in an alcove on the fourth floor, adjacent to the oncology unit.
Since its opening in December 2010, according to Fromm, the kosher pantry has helped ease the hunger and lift the spirits of concerned family members whose relatives are suffering from illness and injury.
In the beginning, Fromm shopped for and stocked the shelves herself. “Since August 2012, Lev Rochel Bikur Cholim of Lakewood has helped in this activity. They already were doing the job for about 15 other hospitals, and their participation is very welcome,” Fromm said.
Foodstuffs and other products stocked in the kosher pantry are all single-use items that do not require refrigeration, said Fromm. Foods include packaged dinner meals, tuna fish, cereal, and instant soups; among the snack items are wafers and cookies, raisin boxes, nuts, applesauce, peanut butter, granola bars, chips, and candy. Available beverages include tea, coffee, grape juice, and soy and rice milk. Most of the items are pareve; dairy items are for the most part cholov Yisroel. Disposable utensils and paper goods and portable Shabbat candlesticks are also provided.
Zylberberg said all items are identified with reputable hechsharim, familiar certifications like OU, OK, Star-K, and KOF-K. He said that in order “to maintain the kosher status of the pantry’s contents and to help ensure that the food reaches those for whom it is intended, the cabinet is protected by a combination lock.” Hospital visitors must enter the alef-bet combination, which is posted in Hebrew on the cabinet. The numeric equivalent is also available at the nurses’ station.