As Passover approaches, the economic crunch has forced the Jewish Family & Vocational Service of Middlesex County to scramble to make sure all those in financial crisis get a holiday basket.
As of March 10, the agency already had 545 individuals needing holiday deliveries as compared to last year’s total of 496. Its food pantry has also been hit hard by the rough economy and saw a jump in clients from 710 in 2008 to 1,183 in 2009.
“I can already see we are going to be needing a lot more deliveries,” said Lisa Mason, JFVS office manager and grant monitor.
“Our pantry shelves are bare,” she said. “We can’t keep anything on the shelves. It’s just flying out of here. We always need canned fruit and vegetables, jelly, pasta, and sauce and items like rice, instant potatoes, dried milk, and juice, canned tuna fish, and hot and cold cereal.
“We just keep seeing more and more individuals and families.”
Toiletry items and baby supplies such as disposable diapers and baby wipes are also needed. Monetary donations are used to purchase perishable dairy items, which are bought as space becomes available in the pantry’s refrigerator.
Passover baskets contain such essentials as matza, matza meal, oil, potato and kugel mixes, canned fruit and vegetables, grape juice, macaroons or other dessert, tea, and Shabbat candles. Other items are added depending on donations.
The annual Passover food drive is being helped by synagogues throughout the county, which have been collecting and dropping off items at JFVS’ Monroe and Milltown locations, along with the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County.
“We are very committed to making people aware of how serious this problem is and that the need is growing,” said Gabriela Sadote Sleppin, director of the federation’s Jewish Community Relations Council. “More people have lost their jobs. As Passover draws near we hope that those who still have a job and are doing well will help others keep their heads above water and to make seders for their children.”
As it did last year, JFVS, along with federation, is participating through April 30 in the Feinstein Foundation Food Challenge. This program, run by Cranston, RI, philanthropist Alan S. Feinstein, will match up to $40,000 in funds collected to fight hunger.
Mason said although JFVS has enough volunteers to pack baskets, it still needs help with deliveries, 9 a.m. on March 21 from Gola Shoe distributor, 19 Cotters Lane, East Brunswick.