(Courtesy of SAR) SAR High School is partnering with Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty (Met Council) and The Kingsbridge Center of Israel (KCI) Kosher Food Pantry to create a unique student-led kosher food pantry. The new SAR/KCI Pantry is housed in SAR High School’s kitchen. Since the fall of 2019, the pantry has provided basic non-perishable and seasonal perishable food items, including produce, chicken and eggs to those in need. The food has been provided at no cost by Met Council and is made available for those whose families would benefit from having the additional help.
In August 2020, the KCI pantry leaders contacted Ora Meier, director of Chesed Programming at SAR High School, to propose that the pantry move to SAR. The KCI Kosher Food Pantry had been moved to a private garage in March, which is not winterized. In addition, the needs and demands of the pantry have grown due to the pandemic.
Housing the pantry at SAR High School appealed to Meier because it not only responded to a pressing community need, but would also provide students with unique chesed, leadership and learning opportunities. As Meier explained, “The COVID pandemic presents real challenges to our chesed model of providing direct-service. Students are unable to be onsite at our regular volunteer locations while adhering to COVID safety protocols. In addition, most of SAR’s partnering sites cannot allow outside volunteers within their spaces due to the pandemic.” The SAR/KCI Kosher Food Pantry provides a hands-on chesed opportunity for students directly in the building.
Maya Jamil and Zahava Butler, seniors from New Rochelle, were selected to co-lead the pantry. Both students demonstrated exceptional commitment to the KCI pantry when COVID hit, as well as in the months after. Butler became involved because she wanted to help those financially impacted by COVID. Butler explained: “At the start of the pandemic, I was speaking with my dad about how fortunate we were to not be in a difficult financial situation due to COVID, and we started to brainstorm about how we could give back. Obviously donating money to organizations is important, but we wanted to invest time and effort into helping others. After hearing about the food pantry, we were both so excited to begin volunteering. Now that it is at SAR, I am so happy that I get to become even more invested and involved in this incredible organization!” Under Jamil and Butler’s guidance, students will have opportunities to pack pantry boxes during their advisory periods.
On Thursday, November 19, the SAR/KCI food pantry opened its doors with a series of activities designed to engage students in issues of food insecurity. Events included a spice and food drive competition, sponsored by SAR High School’s Student Government, Thanksgiving card-making for food recipients and hands-on volunteer opportunities to stock the pantry shelves. Freshmen are bringing all types of canned beans, salt and pepper. Sophomores are tasked with jarred peanut butter, oregano and basil. Juniors are responsible for canned fruits, garlic and onion powder and seniors are contributing canned vegetables, paprika and thyme. The grade that brings the most items will win a socially-distanced ice cream party.
SAR High School’s art department also got involved with inaugurating the pantry by co-sponsoring a logo competition to reflect the expanded reach of the new SAR/KCI Pantry. Senior Deva Laifer, from New Rochelle, won the competition with her visually appealing and informative logo. The logo was displayed during Thursday’s events and presented to Leah Schechter, Met Council’s senior director of Volunteer Services and Donor Relations, as well as to Ben Zaientz, manager of Met Council’s Agency Relations, Food Program.
According to Rabbi Jonathan Kroll, principal of SAR High School, the pantry reflects core values of SAR High School’s mission and identity: “SAR High School’s partnership with Met Council and KCI demonstrates to our students that chesed is critical to our identity as members of the Jewish people and that it forms the foundation of our school. I’m really excited about the opportunity this venture provides for our students to be actively involved in serving the community and it’s a great way for the food pantry to reach more volunteers. What a win-win situation!”
David Greenfield, CEO of Met Council, is inspired by the educational reach of the pantry: “Met Council is deeply committed to helping all those who experience food insecurity and we are incredibly grateful that this opportunity to work with SAR will allow us to serve even more people. Our partnership with KCI and this new pantry at SAR, will not only allow us to expand our fight against food insecurity, but also has the potential to teach our next generation about the struggles of their neighbors and empower those students with the know-how and skills to help those in need.”
The first delivery of the new SAR/KCI food pantry will be made on Monday, November 23. It will be a special Thanksgiving delivery.