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‘Supermarket Sweep’ yields bounty for pantry
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‘Supermarket Sweep’ yields bounty for pantry

Shopping spree helps family agency serve local area’s needy

Volunteers shopped for stacks of groceries and then deposited them in the basement at the JFS headquarters in Elizabeth.
Volunteers shopped for stacks of groceries and then deposited them in the basement at the JFS headquarters in Elizabeth.

Undeterred by the rain and wind, lugging yellow shopping bags of food, over 100 parents, children, and even some Girl Scouts helped replenish the stock of the Kosher Food Pantry run by Jewish Family Service of Central New Jersey in Elizabeth.

Volunteers in the Second Annual Supermarket Sweep Foodraiser, hosted by the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey’s social action committee, descended on ShopRite in Clark on Sunday, March 14. Their goal: to buy as much as they could, using a list of requested kosher items, and armed with all the coupons and special offers they could gather.

Although the final tally, $3,500, was down from last year — 2009’s Sweep total of $5,700 helped supply the food pantry boxes for two-and-a-half months — but given the climatic and economic gloom, organizers said, the results were far better than expected. “You have done a spectacular job,” JFS executive director Tom Beck told the volunteers. “I can’t begin to tell you the needs that we’re dealing with, and this will be a tremendous help. The food might not seem like a lot, but it really helps people get through the month.”

The food will be used in the 170 boxes of supplies distributed by the pantry on a monthly basis. Another 15 to 20 people come each week seeking emergency help.

Lacking last year’s federal stimulus funds, the agency is especially hard-pressed to meet a growing demand for its assistance. Beck said the organization has provided food to about 900 people in the past year — a growth of 54 percent from the year before, the steepest in 30 years.

At the supermarket, volunteers formed teams, some with their families, some with friends from their synagogues.

Members of Congregation Beth Israel in Scotch Plains had the added purchasing power of 30 $25 gift cards donated by Rabbi George Nudell from the rabbi’s discretionary fund.

Elyse Deutsch cochaired the event with Lisa Israel and Janice Weinberg. Deutsch said that by using her coupons and following a carefully planned strategy, she managed to almost double her purchasing power.

Joan Levinson, waving a cash register receipt a yard long, said she had done almost as well.

JFS president David Brooks was there with his wife, Lesley, and their children, Alexis, Noam, and Talya.

“I saw the families doing it last year,” he said, “and I thought what a wonderful way for parents to show their children the right way to do things. I wanted my children to do it, too. It’s a very warm day — another example of our community coming together.”

Hannah Friedman, 13, of Colonia, came for the second year, together with her brother, Max, 16, and their mother, Marci, and aunt, Adrianne Chernofsky, who drove all the way from Princeton to take part. Hannah said she wanted to do the Supermarket Sweep again, “because it felt really good last time.”

Once a month for the past few years, Jen and Eric Wallis of Westfield have delivered the food packages to recipients’ homes. “Some of them are really excited to see us,” Jen said. They started it as a way to inspire their children to do good, but carried on even after the kids, Jordan, eight, and Amanda, five, started attending religious school on Sundays. On this Sunday afternoon, they had their young helpers with them.

Longtime JFS volunteer and board member Ruth Bilenker and a faithful crew of fellow volunteers, all in their 70s, have been packing the JFS family food boxes for many years. Bilenker said that the giant influx of food was going to present quite a challenge — but one she was delighted to face.

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