Teaneck—The high cost of Passover food puts a taxing demand on families already challenged with the hardship of affording food. Jewish Family and Children’s Services (JFCS) have identified 1,500 local families that require assistance and many more that are on the verge of needing help. Stop & Shop has generously stepped up, offering an emergency donation of two tons of kosher-for-Passover food to be donated to JFCS of Northern New Jersey, which will allow them to set up a kosher-for-Passover food pantry in their Teaneck headquarters. On Tuesday, rabbis and community leaders gathered at JFCS in Teaneck to commend Stop & Shop and thank them for the act of kindness.
JFCS is a non-profit organization serving the needs of individuals in Bergen, Passaic and Hudson counties. JFCS strives to enhance the wellbeing of all who call upon them by providing professional and compassionate human services to effectively meet life’s many challenges. Its kosher food pantry opened in 2009 and began to offer Passover provisions in 2010. “Stop & Shop’s generosity will allow us to provide Passover food to many families in our community who would otherwise go without,” said Susan Greenbaum, chief executive officer, JFCS of Northern New Jersey. Greenbaum explained that the more they expand the more people they can help.
Food items donated include gefilte fish, frozen chicken nuggets, chicken soup and matzah ball mix, mayonnaise, tomato sauce, matzah, spices, canned vegetables and dried fruits, cheese, baking ingredients as well as a host of additional items that will enable families to partake in a satisfying holiday menu. This grant will go a long way in servicing the large population of people who cannot afford food. Dignity and respect are held to the highest level of importance and efforts are made so that families can “shop the pantry” year round in a dignified, private way. By the same token, this privacy makes it therefore quite shocking for the community to note how many of their neighbors locally find themselves in this stressful situation. Hunger in this community is generally not openly discussed, though many community rabbis work with and discreetly send families to JFCS, Tomchei Shabbos of Bergen County and Shearit HaPlate, which provide kosher food to community members in need on an ongoing basis. The Helping Hands food pantry in Teaneck also helps provide all community members with dry and canned food year round.
“People in financial crisis in Bergen and Passaic counties—particularly Jews—are sometimes invisible. They are invisible because suburban poverty doesn’t look like the images of urban poverty to which we are exposed. People in severe financial trouble live in our neighborhoods, are well put-together, send their children to school, pray next to us and for as long as possible keep up these appearances,” said Jessica Fleischer, chief operations officer, JFCS of Northern New Jersey. “JFCS is here for them, with a true sensitivity to preserving their privacy as well as their dignity.”
The numbers are truly staggering. “Nearly one in five New Jersey residents are food insecure. Jewish Family and Children’s Services of Northern New Jersey, with the help of Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey and other partners, provides invaluable support for food-insecure individuals through both their food pantry and kosher meals-on-wheels programs,” said Jason M. Shames, chief executive officer of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey. “Stop and Shop’s long-standing commitment to philanthropy in local communities is an expression of their corporate culture and of the values that we all share. We thank them for their continuing work to help the vulnerable in our community.”
Besides the obvious issues that accompany a lack of food provisions, there is also the emotional issues that families must confront. “Passover is a time for the Jewish people to come together and feast with their families,” said Bergen County Executive Tim Tedesco. “I applaud the generosity of the kosher-for-Passover food pantry and Stop & Shop, and hope others will be inspired to help feed Bergen County families throughout the year.”
On a statewide level, almost 900,000 people in New Jersey rely on food banks. These people often are forced to choose between medicine and food, housing and food, and utilities and food. Seventy-five percent of people said they purchased unhealthy food as a way to cope. The issue of hunger and poverty is finding its way into more and more homes across America. “Although we live in a country with a considerable amount of wealth, no one should mistake the privilege of some for the notion that everyone in our area is comfortable,” explained Rabbi Joel Pitkowsky of Congregation Beth Sholom in Teaneck, who is also bringing Mazon’s “This is Hunger” mobile exhibit to Teaneck’s Temple Emeth April 3 (see sidebar on this page). “JFCS does a tremendous job in seeking out those members of our community in need of help and providing them the services, support and assistance they require.”
Rabbi Chaim Poupko, rabbi of Congregation Ahavath Torah in Englewood and president of the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County, said, “The RCBC is enormously grateful to Stop & Shop and JFCS for being exemplars of charity and kindness.”
Teaneck Mayor Mohammed Hameeduddin also expressed his utmost gratitude on behalf of the town he represents so proudly. “The Township of Teaneck greatly appreciates the work of the kosher-for-Passover food pantry and thanks Stop & Shop for their assistance in this effort,” said Hameeduddin. “Food insecurity is not something to be taken lightly and I applaud any and all efforts to ensure that residents of Teaneck and Bergen County have access to quality food at all times, especially during Passover.”
“Hunger often hides right in front of our eyes, among our neighbors and friends,” added Englewood Mayor Frank Huttle. “That is why I am so proud to support JFCS as it identifies families in need, and Stop & Shop for its generous emergency assistance gift. Their combined efforts will ensure that these families will receive the pantry services so vital to them at this important time of year.”
“It is our hope that families in need will be able to enjoy Passover. Our effort to assist the residents of northern New Jersey underscores Stop & Shop’s commitment to the communities we serve, said Jim Keenoy, Stop & Shop’s director of marketing and external communications. “We appreciate the efforts of the dedicated staff and volunteers of the JFCS kosher food pantry and of our elected officials as we work together to make this a joyful Passover.”
By Andrea Nissel