June 21, 2024
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Tomchei Chesed Comes To W. Orange/Livingston

Like many grassroots initiatives, the recent welcoming of Tomchei, a new division of the West Orange-Livingston Chesed Group, stemmed from an ongoing community commitment that began about two years ago, when a 6-year-old girl from Lakewood ended up in the burn unit at Saint Barnabas Hospital. The family needed coverage for night shifts. With the ease of WhatsApp, a constant rotation of volunteers from West Orange and Livingston signed up for shifts. Over time, and particularly during COVID, this group has stepped in for anything that someone may have needed, beyond what could have been anticipated, to the point where they have now formed a second chat since the first group is full.

Renee and Moshe Glick, Larry Rein and Barbara Listhaus are administrators of the group who helped coordinate shopping trips during the pandemic (over 2,000 shopping trips were coordinated), the distribution of masks and gloves, care packages for first responders including the police and first aid squads, and several other initiatives.

“People were alone for so long, especially during the chagim,” explained Moshe. “When a Jew is in distress we are here to help in any way possible. Antisemitism is at record levels and we need to step up our ahavat Yisrael game.”

Last Pesach, a holiday when people are used to being together with family but instead found themselves alone, the Chesed Committee assembled, packed and delivered 900 Pesach meals. “It lets people know that they may be alone, but are not without others who are thinking of them,” he said.

The government has provided unprecedented resources during the pandemic, but these are beginning to taper down. In order to replace these resources, the West Orange Livingston Chesed Committee launched yet another initiative. By obtaining excess food from smachot and kiddushim, they are hoping to repurpose gourmet catered food and minimize waste, while helping the community.

“Now that these events are coming back and in larger numbers again, we are seeing more food that doesn’t end up getting used,” said Moshe. A general notice has been sent to all local shuls informing them of the need and how to participate. Tomchei volunteers come and repackage the prepared food to freeze and use for those who are recovering from illness or facing other challenges. In a clever touch, each repackaged meal comes with a sticker labeled with a “prepared by” date so families can decide for how long to keep the food.

Alisha Blugrind, Howard Charish, Rachel Ginsberg and Rivky Moradi are spearheading the newest Tomchei effort with many volunteers. A WhatsApp group for packers and drivers quickly grew to 70 volunteers in a matter of days. As the Jewish Relief Agency under Rabbi Gurevitch distributes much-needed non-perishable food, the Chesed Committee thought it would be an added touch to supplement this with high-end catered food items. Looking to create their branch of Tomchei Shabbos, an organization known internationally as a resource for helping families make Shabbat, they connected with Dr. Nosson Zemel of Newark, who had been involved in these types of projects already. Together they put together weekly food package distribution for about 25 families, with anonymity and respect being two of the key factors in how they operate.

“While our effort is quiet and efficient, what is so gratifying is the compassion quotient in our community. People literally open their homes and hearts to respond to the need. We rarely have to ask twice,” said Charish.

In communities as large as West Orange and Livingston, there is no one shul taking the lead on this project; volunteers work together with the resources they share. “It’s a community initiative, not a shul-specific project,” Charish said.

Any member of the Jewish community who needs assistance, regardless of affiliation, just needs to reach out. There is no overhead and all proceeds go to help the community. Donations are tax deductible and can be made directly to the West Orange-Livingston Chesed Committee. As the government-subsidized food boxes are set to end September 5, the volunteers are gearing up and looking for ways to supplement the food upon which many have come to rely.

“This has taken a tremendous amount of coordination, and it’s been so positive how it all stemmed from the initiatives of the community,” Charish concluded.

For more information, email Moshe Glick at [email protected], Renee Glick at [email protected] or Larry Rein at [email protected].

By Jenny Gans

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