SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — Each Thanksgiving, families get together, sit around a crowded table and dig in. There is the usual fare — turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce — and then those extras that make each Thanksgiving meal unique and special. It may be thanks to Grandma’s apple pie or Aunt Helen’s potato kugel. Surrounded by such warmth, it can be easy to forget that not everyone gets to experience that ideal Thanksgiving.
Food-insecure families don’t have that Thanksgiving. In fact, the average weeknight dinner that many take for granted is beyond the grasp of many Americans. And these individuals are not living in places you will never visit; they are living here with us.
Luckily, our area has several initiatives and food pantries to help these neighbors. Among them is the Bobrow Kosher Food Pantry, which runs out of Oheb Shalom Congregation in South Orange. The Bobrow Kosher Food Pantry, which is staffed entirely by volunteers, provides food for hundreds of people who are elderly and living in poverty within this community.
According to the pantry’s website, it has grown exponentially in the 25 years it’s been in operation and now serves approximately 200 households each month. The pantry, which is run by co-chairwomen Diane Weiss and Jennifer Glass, serves only kosher food — though food is provided to anyone who needs it, regardless of religion, race or any other identifying feature.
“Diane has been involved with the Kosher Food Pantry since its inception in 1991,” Glass, who has been with the pantry for four years, told The Villager last week. “We started serving the needs of the new Russian immigrants, and now serve a larger community of unemployed individuals, the elderly, the divorced and families that are having difficulties.”
While some food pantries report a spike in requests for food around holidays, Glass said that the Bobrow Kosher Food Pantry sees spikes throughout the year, not just at holiday time.
“The economy changes, the needs of individuals for food increase,” Glass said. “Food stamps from the government are not enough to those making minimum wage or for those with difficulties.”
Luckily, entities like the Bobrow Kosher Food Pantry exist to serve those in need. And there are many who need help. According to the nonprofit Feeding America, in 2015 42.2 million Americans lived in food-insecure households, including 29.1 million adults and 13.1 million children. According to 2015 statistics, 13 percent of U.S. households were food insecure.
“We are a safety net for those who simply don’t have enough food to feed their families. While we are a kosher food pantry, we can help anyone in need — not just Jewish families,” Glass said. “We feel that we are taught through the years that ‘tikkun olam’ (‘healing the world’) means to help save all individuals, not just those of our faith. Through our work in the Kosher Food Pantry, we are helping all.”
While the pantry does not only provide food for Jewish families, it is the only pantry in the area that cares for food-insecure individuals while allowing them to maintain their religious practices.
“The Bobrow Food Pantry has a unique niche in that people who require kosher food are able to have their needs met at this particular food bank,” Jayne Sayovitz, the assistant executive director of Jewish Family Service of MetroWest, told The Villager, calling the pantry a “valuable institution.”
And the food pantry helps more than just those to whom it provides food. Studies show that individuals who donate money or time to worthwhile causes have improved self esteem and are generally happier than those who do not.
“Hundreds of members from Oheb Shalom contribute to the food pantry as well as other members of the public,” Glass said. “We welcome donations of kosher food all year round from anyone who would like to contribute. People should donate because there is great need in our community.”
Glass outlined how community members can contribute to the food pantry and help their neighbors: through financial and food donations, and by volunteering.
“We welcome nonperishable food donations at any time of year,” Glass said. “Donations must be kosher. We are in greatest need of things like shelf-stabilized milk, tuna, peanut butter, and canned fruit and vegetables.”
The pantry is always looking for volunteers. Each month, volunteers gather to bag the donated food, and deliver it on another day.
“We need volunteers to help with bagging and distribution,” Glass said, adding that those interested can contact the pantry’s volunteer coordinator, Meredith Katz, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sayovitz added that community members can help by knowing about initiatives and pantries within the community, then relaying that information to those who need it.
“Community members can be a great resource for individuals in need of food by knowing resources in their local community, which includes the Bobrow Kosher Food Pantry,” Sayovitz said.
On Thanksgiving, while you’re giving thanks for what you have, remember to give a thought to those in need, and perhaps you will be inspired help out by joining the angels at the Bobrow Kosher Food Pantry.