JF&CS News Fall 2011

Aaron* is a 63-year-old Jewish man who was living in a homeless shelter when we first met him. When he arrived at JF&CS, he had a simple request – he needed glue to repair his shoes. Aaron was cold, hungry, and needed more than a simple bottle of glue. He needed someone to help him meet his most basic needs: food, shelter, and safety. Aaron is one of more than 600 people served by JF&CS Family Table each month. For the past 18 years, Family Table has been a life-saving resource that helps put people back on the path to stability and safety.

Family Table began in 1993 from the humble beginnings of serving around 30 families out of a synagogue with pioneering volunteers. Since then, the program has grown dramatically. Particularly in the past few years after a doubling in size, Family Table is now the largest kosher food pantry in New England. As it has grown, the program has retained the values that have made it such a critical support for so many: serving people with dignity, engaging the community, and caring for individual clients' needs.

"Even though we've grown, the core values have remained consistent. They are a guiding light for us," said JF&CS Director of Hunger and Nutrition Alison Kaufman, MS, RD, LDN.

During Family Table's 18th year, will be celebrating the commitment of our 2,000 annual volunteers, some of whom have been involved with the program since the beginning. Every month, 175 volunteers come together across two pantry sites at JF&CS Headquarters in Waltham and Temple Ner Tamid in Peabody to help sort, pack, and deliver food to families. Much of the food is collected from 64 synagogues and day schools, where dedicated site coordinators gather donations and recruit others.

"I am so appreciative of our volunteers; the energy they bring month after month is inspiring" said Alison.

Seymour Small of Brookline has been volunteering for Family Table for 17 years. He runs the "dry goods pantry," keeping inventory, assigning jobs to those who have come to sort and pack, and sometimes explaining the difference between kosher and non-kosher. In 1994, he was looking for a volunteer job he could do with his children, who were six and nine at the time. He thinks the fact that people can participate with their children has contributed to Family Table's success.

"It's a place you can bring the whole clan. I try to involve the kids to make it really interesting to them. Kids love to shop, arrange food, and pack the bags. It's fun," Seymour said. "The people who volunteer are just absolutely superb. Some families come for years. It's a great group."

The number of families who receive food has grown tremendously since Seymour started and he is amazed at what a difference a few bags of food can make. "Imagine what kind of shape these families must be in. I'm sure we are of immense help to them." he said.

Family Table's innovative focus on healthy foods goes beyond simply providing staples to include whole grains, fresh produce, and recipes using food pantry offerings. This emphasis on nutritional health is a part of the agency-wide Hunger and Nutrition Initiative.

"The average American gets more calories and fewer nutrients than his/her body needs. We provide the healthiest food possible to help our clients lead healthy, productive lives," said Alison.

The program does not merely provide food. Because it is a part of JF&CS, staff members connect recipients to additional resources that will help them move toward stability and self sufficiency, from housing to school supplies to help with domestic abuse.

"We see our role as being broader than a food pantry. We are serving the stranger within our midst. We have a moral responsibility to help in this comprehensive way," said Bernice Behar, Family Table Program Manager.

Family Table has kept its close connection with the Jewish community and remains a vital resource for kosher food. Eighty-five percent of the pantry's clients are Jewish and forty percent of them keep kosher. "Clients say that receiving groceries from Family Table means they know the Jewish community cares for them," said Bernice.

Looking ahead, Alison and the team are undergoing a planning process to make sure Family Table remains a sustainable program as pantries close and referrals from other agencies continue to rise. Although times may change, the JF&CS commitment to feeding the hungry will remain.

"Our clients aren't that different from everyone else. Their concerns are the same - that they have enough food and that their kids eat healthy food. Anybody can relate to that," said Bernice.

*Name changed to protect privacy.

For more information, call 781-647-JFCS (5327) or email your questions via our contact us page.