Among the sponsors of a series of fund-raising runs whose aim is to fight hunger are two South Orange synagogues, Congregation Beth El and Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel (TSTI).
The idea is simple: Sign up, show up, donate, and take part in a 10-kilometer run. Each day over the course of “10 Days for 10Ks,” beginning Friday, Aug. 17, a different sponsor will host the run and serve as the starting point. There are no T-shirts, no giveaways, no blocked streets. Instead, it’s a no-frills effort to raise money for MEND (Meeting Essential Needs with Dignity), an interfaith network of 17 food pantries in Essex County.
The other faith sponsors include two churches, Our Lady of Sorrows in South Orange and Morrow Memorial United Methodist Church in Maplewood, as well as local personal trainers, gyms, and businesses.
The goal is to raise a total from all 10 days of $2,000 or more, which will benefit MEND’s new mobile food pantry, a renovated and redesigned school bus lovingly dubbed “The Green Bean” that can be used to supplement food pantries’ offerings with fresh produce.
Participants can run all 10 days or choose the dates that work for them. There are also 5-kilometer routes for walkers and runners.
“We want to do something as inclusive as possible,” said Jessica Lituchy, who conceived the idea about two months ago. “This is a cause pretty much any person I know can get behind.”
The Maplewood resident and TSTI member is a runner who is also deeply involved in efforts to feed the hungry. She volunteers with and donates to charitable organizations fighting hunger, including the Interfaith Food Pantry of the Oranges, Feed SOMany, Heifer International, and BackPack Pals. “Hunger really gets me because it is so unnecessary and so unfair and also so debilitating,” Lituchy told NJJN. “The thought that any person should go hungry is maddening.”
The cause also resonates with her Jewish practices. “Taking care of the poor, giving them a hand up, that’s tikkun olam, a root Jewish value,” she said.
She has observed when volunteering at the Interfaith Food Pantry of the Oranges that “whenever people had fresh produce, they were so happy,” she said. Because food pantries usually have confined space and little to no access to refrigeration, fresh produce is a luxury they rarely offer their clients, relying instead on boxed and canned foods.
Fresh produce must be purchased and delivered on the same day that the pantry is open, so “The Green Bean” is critical. With a cost of about $500 per delivery, the $2,000 that Lituchy aims to raise can cover four extra visits.
“The clients are so excited; one told us she never gets fresh fruit,” said MEND executive director Robin Peacock. After a delivery that included oranges, onions, green beans, peaches, and potatoes, Peacock said, “a woman called us crying, telling us it was such nice food, and she wasn’t used to such nice food. She wanted to thank us.”
Lituchy understands that hunger is a grind. That’s the reason for the 10 days — she wanted an undertaking that might help participants identify, at least a little bit, with the situation of people who go hungry. “This is a cool challenge, but it’s also a grind, just like poverty, which is a horrible grind, and just like hunger, a horrible grind,” Lituchy said.
Rabbi Jesse Olitzky of Beth El endorsed the fund-raiser. “It says in Parashat Re’eh (Deut. 15:4) ‘There shall be no needy among you,’” he said. “Our goal and mission is to build a world and society where no one is food insecure, where parents don’t miss a meal because they are ensuring that their children eat, where no families have empty refrigerators and empty dinner tables.”
Beth El and TSTI are among four local congregations that support the Interfaith Food Pantry of the Oranges, which is run by MEND and serves close to 400 clients each week. The other two are Temple B’nai Jeshurun and Christ Church, both in Short Hills.