Following the dictate in the Haggada that says “Let all who are hungry come and eat,” the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ is launching a campaign during March “to raise awareness of the issue of hunger and to help those who are hungry in the local community and around the world.”
Volunteers are being asked to donate kosher-for-Passover or year-round nonperishable kosher food items to the Bobrow Kosher Food Pantry at Oheb Shalom Congregation in South Orange, the Jewish Family Service of Central NJ Kosher Food Pantry in Elizabeth, the Jewish Relief Agency MetroWest NJ in Morristown, and the Community Food Bank of NJ in Hillside.
“We want people to know they have the opportunity to fight hunger throughout the community. We would love for synagogues and agencies to sign up to collect food and participate in our drive,” said Stacey Brown, manager of the federation’s community engagement.
“The need is always there, but for Passover there is always a demand for Passover food,” said JFS of Central NJ executive director Tom Beck.
His agency’s pantry serves 1,200 people, including those who need emergency assistance. “We are the only kosher food pantry in Union County,” he said. “So the only food we distribute is kosher.”
The $956 billion federal farm bill signed earlier this month included a 10-year, $8.6 billion cut in food stamps. An administration official told the Asbury Park Press that nearly 160,000 NJ families will lose an average of $90 in federal food assistance each month under the new law.
“We have a big need for donations, because we have 30 people on our waiting list, and it has gotten worse since there have been reductions in the state’s Special Nutrition Assistance Program,” Beck said. “But we never turn anyone away.”
Fran Weingold of West Orange, director of the Bobrow pantry, said Oheb Shalom is asking for people to bring food into the synagogue “anytime except Shabbos.”
Among the people the pantry serves are residents of the nearby South Orange B’nai B’rith Federation House, one of the senior communities run by the federation’s Jewish Community Housing Corporation.
Throughout the year the Bobrow food bank serves between 150 and 190 people a month, and the demand intensifies before Passover, which this year begins the evening of April 14.
“We will start distributing kosher-for-Passover food on March 23, and we expect 90 families to come in that day. There is a great need, mostly from seniors, but we also have younger families with children. Many people do not understand there are hungry people in this community, and I especially appreciate the work of the kids who come in here for mitzva projects,” Weingold said.
To be a client of the pantry, “you do not have to be Jewish,” said Weingold, “but you have to have a financial need…”
As for donations, she said, the food “has to be kosher; I prefer if it has a hechsher on it. But it does not have to be kosher-for-Passover, although we will be giving out matza and matza meal” for the holiday.
In addition, the federation has listed most-wanted kosher-for-Passover items, including apple sauce, borscht, cereals, coffee, tea, jars of gefilte fish, horseradish, and cans of soup. Standard kosher items, including canned fruits and vegetables, mustard, ketchup, pasta, pancake mix, rice, and peanut butter, will also be gratefully received.
Drop-off sites are located throughout Essex, Morris, Union, and Sussex counties. In addition to the food pantries themselves, they include Cheder Lubavitch of Morristown; Congregation B’nai Jeshurun, Short Hills; Bohrer-Kaufman Hebrew Academy of Morris County, Randolph; JCC of Central NJ, Scotch Plains; Cooperman JCC, West Orange; Jewish Educational Center, Elizabeth; Jewish Service for the Developmentally Disabled and the Wae Center, West Orange; YM-YWHA of Union County, Union; and the offices of Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ on the Aidekman campus in Whippany and the Wilf campus in Scotch Plains.
The federation is also encouraging community members to visit jfedgmw.org/fighthunger to contribute funds for the effort and to feed hungry children and the elderly in the former Soviet Union. People wishing further information about donating or volunteering can contact Brown at email@example.com or 973-929-3027.