Teaneck—Did you know that diapers and regular formula for one child costs as much as $280 a month? If you need specialty formula, costs can skyrocket to $32 and beyond for each container.
Now imagine you have twins or triplets and they are on specialty formula, and a family member has lost his job or is facing a medical condition with mounting medical bills. You might make enough income to be ineligible for WIC and other government programs, but you make too little to make ends meet.
Avi and Ginnine Fried of Teaneck were recipients of the Teaneck Baby Gemach when, in dire straits financially, they had their twins four years ago. Now they are paying it forward, having taken over the day-to-day operations of the gemach in 2011. The gemach operates under the auspices of Congregation Ahavat Shalom, known in Teaneck as “the apartments minyan,” which was the spiritual home of Rachel Fleisher (now of Elizabeth, NJ), who started it in memory of her mother in 2008. The Frieds attend Congregation Arzei Darom and live in the Holy Name Hospital neighborhood, but the gemach still operates where it began.
Both Frieds work “super full-time”: Avi as a web sales manager at Culinary Depot and Ginnine as an attorney and part-time kids’ Zumba instructor. Ginnine operates the day-to-day activities of the extremely busy gemach with “many moving parts” primarily on her smartphone, managing 50+ requests a month. She also coordinates Amazon shipments of diapers to approximately 20 gemach recipients every other month, with an extra box of diapers per child around every yom tov.
Avi is “the financial planning arm of the gemach, handling the fundraising, collecting the pushka money, shopping the best deals for diapers and supplies, and working hand-in-hand with the members of Ahavat Shalom, as well as the local rabbis and shul boards of the RCBC to ensure the ongoing presence and success of the gemach,” he said.
The gemach has expanded considerably over the past few years, according to Ginnine. While they used to take in everything and store a lot in their basement and garage, the Frieds, with their many volunteers, have evolved and “figured out which items are in very high demand and will be needed in the short term, and we store those on a short term basis (a few months at most). The gemach largely runs on a ‘request’ basis, so that we keep a list of ‘needs’ and when items come in we distribute them based on the wait list,” she said.
But “the one thing every parent needs, no matter the age or gender or season, is diapers. We are currently spending more than $1,500 per month on these type of expenses, and we have recipients on our list that only need diapers and the like, having received everything else from friends, family, neighbors and others,” said Avi. Ginnine described the heartbreak she feels when families try to save money by either using fewer diapers, or by buying the more absorbent nighttime diapers and changing them less often. Diaper rash and unhappy babies are most often the result.
Individuals must only be Jews living in Bergen County to benefit from the gemach’s services, and Fried indicated that all of the gemach distributions are operated on a confidential basis. Deliveries can also be made anonymously if necessary.
In addition to buying diapers, a stand-out accomplishment of the gemach is the ability to provide expensive, specialty baby formulas to those who truly need it. “I collect cans off eBay at a discount and provide them when we have funding. One story that sticks out in my mind is the woman whose child had a severe gastrointestinal problem,” said Ginnine. “She was trying all these different specialty formulas and none of them were working. Because each can she tried was around $35, she was really hurting financially. She was reluctant to even try Elecare because it’s so expensive ($65/can). But it just so happened that the month prior someone donated some cans of Elecare. I have never gotten it in before or since. So I encouraged her to just try the formula; I practically threw the cans at her. Hashem is our partner and sends us the request and the donor usually very close in time and makes the job easy,” she said.
“After just a day, she called me crying and thanking me because for the first time in his life her baby had a normal poop. It might not sound so remarkable, but when you are a new mother for the first time and dealing with a baby who is crying and uncomfortable, suddenly feeling normal (even if sleep-deprived) is an amazing feeling. Then we helped her get Elecare after that and it was such a great feeling. I wish the donors could see what we see,” said Fried.
The Frieds are happy to have partnered with Michal Jacob of Teaneck, who volunteers as equipment coordinator, and with Annette Prager of Bergenfield, who organizes the clothing distribution, offering drop offs and pickups. “The clothing operation is immense but very important because it saves our families hundreds, if not over a thousand dollars per year,” said Ginnine. The clothing also runs on a request basis, without a central storage location, and she encourages families to take as many “sizes up” so that they can to plan for the future, she added.
Other items the Teaneck Baby Gemach is in most need of is unexpired (less than five years old) car seats and non-drop side cribs. “Because safety is important to us, we cannot pass along expired seats, and because drop-side cribs were very popular prior to 2009, when they were banned for sale in the U.S., we get few donations of cribs that are considered safe,” she said. “To raise more money, we also have a fleet of portacribs to lend out, and then when people return them, we ask for a voluntary donation of $18 or $36, and that’s a box of diapers for someone,” Fried said.
The gemach also said toddler clothing is in very high demand and they never have enough. “We accept clothing up to 5T. Older kids are rougher on their clothes, and so there are fewer donations in this age range that are of excellent quality. Socks and warm pajamas are also very high on the list. These are items that don’t seem to survive more than one child. We get so many orphan socks!” Fried said.
Supplies and funding permitting, the Frieds said the gemach tries to extend its work beyond Bergen County when necessary.
“The gemach has been wonderful for our marriage, because we are doing chesed together. Our kids know that we are giving to the ‘babies’ that need help. What a valuable lesson!”
“We would like to personally thank the rabbi and board members of Congregation Ahavat Shalom for their help, their guidance, and their allowing us to continue operations under their ‘umbrella’ when we took over the gemach from Rachel Fleischer. Without the help of the shul and their rabbi/board, we would not be able to do the job we do, and many members of our local community would go without many basic necessities we tend to take for granted as parents,” said the Frieds.
To provide a much-appreciated tax-deductible monetary donation or to donate to or request items from the Teaneck Baby Gemach, visit http://www.teaneckbabygemach.org, or email the Frieds at teaneckbabygemach_gmail.com.
By Elizabeth Kratz