More than 80 volunteers came together to help Jewish Family Services sort the food on Sept. 26, organizing nearly 1,300 bags of food and toiletries. (photos from facebook.com/JFSVancouver)
During this year’s Project Isaiah food drive, the Metro Vancouver community donated four months’ worth of provisions for the Jewish Food Bank, which will feed and support the 300 households who turn to the Jewish Food Bank each month.
More than 80 volunteers came together to help Jewish Family Services sort the food on Sept. 26, helping unload, box and organize nearly 1,300 bags of food and toiletries. The collection is a huge effort and JFS could not have done it without all of its partners across the Jewish community, as well as the countless individuals who donated and volunteered, and Vancouver Talmud Torah and Congregation Beth Israel who offered the use of their facilities.
The number of those who rely on the Jewish Food Bank continues to rise. JFS’s services also include home delivery to seniors and people with disabilities, and the recently launched Jewish Food Link program extends the agency’s reach to serve people in the Tri-Cities and Richmond areas.
Jewish Family Services has launched a new program to provide short-term financial assistance to Jewish community members living in the Tri-Cities area, including Maple Ridge and Mission. This program is funded by a grant from a private donor through Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver.
Called the Chesed (or Compassion) Program, the project responds to recommendations made by the Jewish Food Security Task Force, a joint collaboration between JFS and Jewish Federation, that identified the lack of regionally based Jewish food options as one of the top priorities to address.
According to a report from the Jewish Federation, 4,200 Jews in the Lower Mainland earn less than $30,000 annually and live below the low-income cut-off. Approximately 20% of these households live in the Tri-Cities, Mission, Langley and Maple Ridge. Another five percent of households in these areas earn less than $50,000. This means there are approximately 1,000 people living in these communities, many of whom are single-parent working families, who are considered food insecure.
Richard Fruchter, chief executive officer of JFS, said that, for those living in this situation, their day-to-day reality is dire. “Many do not have enough food to last the whole month without accessing a food bank,” he explained, and “some parents go without so that their children have enough to eat. Still others have poor diets, lacking sufficient income to purchase fresh fruit and vegetables.”
Nearly all Jewish programs and services are located in Vancouver and, despite the number of low-income Jewish households in these geographic areas, there are no Jewish-run social services available to them. Many are families that have requested assistance from JFS but, because of the distance to Vancouver or the Jewish Food Bank’s limited hours of operation, they are not getting the help they need. In addition, a significant number of these households are new immigrants, the majority of whom are Russians or Russian-Israelis. They would benefit from being connected to the Jewish community and having access to social and educational programs offered closer to their homes. The Chesed Program is a small but significant step in creating access to these social services.
The program is designed to offer up to six months’ short-term assistance for people in crisis where no other source of funding is available. Eligible are Jewish community members 18 to 65 years old who are residents of the Tri-Cities, Maple Ridge or Mission and can demonstrate financial need (i.e. bank statement, rent receipt, income tax statement, social assistance cheque, proof of income) and are willing to develop a long-term plan for addressing their financial needs, where possible. Individuals or families who meet the eligibility criteria will receive a loaded credit card that can be used for purchasing basic needs items.
For more information about the Chesed Program, contact Tanja Demajo, director of family and adult resources at JFS, at [email protected] or 604-637-3316.
Chabad Lubavitch BC’s 40th Annual Gold Plate Celebration raised $10,000 for the Jewish Food Bank. (photo courtesy)
Lubavitch BC held its 40th Annual Gold Plate Celebration on March 15, 2018. The dinner celebrated 43 years of Chabad Lubavitch service to British Columbia.
Instead of having a sit-down affair this year, Chabad Lubavitch BC had a cocktail reception and donated the money raised (the costs saved by not having a sit-down dinner) – $10,000 – to the JFS Vancouver Jewish Food Bank to help those in need.
There was also a raffle for the grand cash prize of $18,000.
On Feb. 20, students at Vancouver Hebrew Academy packaged more than 200 mishloach manot bags full of non-perishable food items donated by the Marine Drive and Grandview Superstore locations. (photo from VHA)
The atmosphere at the Jewish Food Bank on Feb. 22 at the Peretz Centre for Secular Jewish Culture was almost festive. Adults chatted, kids played, as people made their way through the various lines. Vancouver Hebrew Academy students had already come and gone – having delivered more than 200 mishloach manot packages in anticipation of Purim – and Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada Jody Wilson-Raybould had stopped in to visit.
“We were thrilled to be able to distribute the Purim packages through the food bank,” Rabbi Dan Pacht, VHA head of school, told the Independent. “It was the idea of Hodie Kahn and Rachael Lewinski, two die-hard VHA enthusiasts … Hodie is a past VHA parent and board member, Rachael is a current VHA parent (and a VHA alum) and board member. They have been largely responsible for building the program to where it is today. They saw this as a great way to bring the lesson of Purim into living colour. So much of the Purim theme revolves around helping others and bringing community together to celebrate – think mitzvot of sending food to neighbours and charitable gifts to those in need. What better way to celebrate as a community than to bring the joy of Purim to more and more families?”
“It’s a powerful symbol of love and friendship among our community,” said Richard Fruchter, Jewish Family Services chief executive officer, about the mishloach manot project in the agency’s February e-newsletter. He also noted that, during Wilson-Raybould’s visit, the minister spoke “with JFS about food security, housing and mental health services. She connected with the dozens of volunteers and hundreds of clients who benefit from this twice-a-month service.”
All of the items provided in the 200-plus mishloach manot gift bags were donated by two Real Canadian Superstore locations: Marine Drive and Grandview. “And they have [donated] for several years now,” said Pacht, stressing his gratitude.
In years past, the initiative has included other Jewish schools – Vancouver Talmud Torah, Richmond Jewish Day School, King David High School, Pacific Torah Institute and Shalhevet Girls High School – and “was an avenue to raise funds for all of the Jewish day schools,” said Pacht, as people donated to have Purim packages sent to friends, family and colleagues. Run under the umbrella of VHA, it was the “Vancouver Jewish Day Schools Purim Project,” he added.
“In past years, we have hosted the event at KDHS and had students from all the schools participate in various capacities,” explained the rabbi. “VTT, VHA and RJDS students packing, KDHS students setting up and cleaning up, PTI and Shalhevet students picking up items from Superstore, etc. We also have had parents from all of the schools volunteer their time to assist the packing process and deliver the packages on Purim day.
“This year, we took a step back and did not run the program as a fundraiser. With only 200 packages being prepared, that were then distributed through the Jewish Food Bank, we managed the entire process in-house.”
VHA also sent out “a mailing containing a Purim kit, with some information about the holiday and a few practical goodies as well,” said Pacht.
“What started in Ruth Huberman’s living room – at the time she was a VHA parent and board member (she now has several grandchildren attending VHA) – preparing about 100 packages, mushroomed into a program that reached the farthest corners of our community. We have over 1,200 families we connect with each year!” he said. “After 10 years of doing the same thing, we found it difficult to maintain the same momentum and enthusiasm. We are looking at various alternative models for next year. Something to refresh the program and keep the community engaged.”
Global TV was at Richmond Jewish Day School last week to recognize the efforts of Grade 6 and 7 students who are selling flowers to fundraise for the Variety Club, Richmond Animal Protection Society and the Jewish Food Bank. To date, the students have raised $2,000 for these charities. Pictured, left to right, are Rachel Marliss, Shai Rubin and Nathan Brown. (photo by Lauren Kramer)
Each year, Jewish Family Service Agency, in collaboration with Jewish Women International-B.C., operates Project Isaiah – a High Holy Days food drive that assists members of our community in need. A successful response to Project Isaiah is vital to provide 300 people in the community with four months’ worth of provisions from the Jewish Food Bank.
JFSA is grateful for the assistance of local synagogues in distributing bags and collecting items from congregants for this special project. The bags are distributed in September and JFSA asks that people pick one (or more) up, fill it with non-perishable food and return the full bag(s) to their synagogue or wherever they originally collected the bag(s). All donations go directly to the Jewish Food Bank to assist individuals and families.
For more information about Project Isaiah – “… share your bread with the hungry” (Isaiah 58:7) – contact Marnie Greenwald at 604-257-5151, ext. 1-230, or [email protected]jfsa.ca, or Sara Ciacci at 604-325-4810.
Visit jfsa.ca/donate or call 604-257-5151 to make a direct donation, or buy a Rosh Hashanah tribute card, to support JFSA’s food assistance programs or any of its other funds.
Dr. Dan Ezekiel, left, and Ezra Shanken with JFSA Innovators Lunch co-chairs Shannon Ezekiel, left, and Dr. Sherri Wise. (photo by Rhonda Dent Photography)
“Something that we never could have imagined to be possible eventually became a reality because of our continued dreams,” said Beth Israel Rabbi Jonathan Infeld, referring to the establishment of the state of Israel, the 69th anniversary of which took place on the day he addressed the 13th Annual Jewish Family Service Agency Innovators Lunch.
“The JFSA as an organization,” he said, “continually looks forward to and works for ending hunger and poverty, healing those with mental illness and other challenges, solving issues of housing for our community – dreams that may at this moment seem impossible but, with the extremely dedicated and talented staff and donors and people who care about the JFSA, this is a dream that I believe is within our capacity.”
JFSA’s capacity was strengthened by the success of the May 2 lunch at Hyatt Regency Vancouver, which featured Kiva founder Jessica Jackley as the keynote speaker. After three years of declining donations, the 2017 event set a record – $340,224 has been raised from the lunch to date, writes JFSA chief executive officer Richard Fruchter in the agency’s May 24 enewsletter. The Edwina and Paul Heller Memorial Fund helped this year’s total by matching new gifts and any increases in renewed gifts to the event, up to a total of $25,000.
Co-chaired by Dr. Sherri Wise and Shannon Ezekiel, the lunch began with a welcome from Karen James, chair of JFSA’s board of directors. Fruchter then provided an update on the varied activities of the organization, including the services they offer the non-Jewish community. “We strive to make a difference for each and every person who walks through our doors,” he said.
This year’s short video shared the stories of a few people who JFSA has helped, including that of a young man struggling with anxiety and depression who received counseling at JFSA and a couple who received help finding needed subsidized housing for seniors. It also focused on the story of Tea and her father, Zadik.
“It’s remarkable to see a multi-generational story like Tea’s, whose family first arrived in Canada from wartorn Bosnia with almost nothing,” writes Fruchter in the May newsletter. “JFSA was there to welcome them, provide help and support as they adjusted to life in Canada and became productive citizens. Now, nearly 25 years later, we’re supporting her father, Zadik, a Holocaust survivor, through the [Claims Conference] Jewish Victims of Nazism program.”
At the lunch, JFSA board member and development chair Jody Dales told the audience of more than 600 that one of her and her husband’s main concerns is alleviating poverty, and that’s why they came to work with JFSA. She spoke about the importance of JFSA’s services for seniors with low incomes, and noted that this group includes Holocaust survivors. She spoke of the importance of the counseling that JFSA provides in a province where waitlists for psychiatrists can be eight months or longer.
JFSA spends more than $100,000 a year on operating the Jewish Food Bank and close to $400,000 making food vouchers available, said Dales. In the last few years, she added, the demand for vouchers has almost doubled and JFSA has had to reduce the amounts provided, from approximately $65 per month per individual, to $45. In addition, the agency has had to stop accepting new requests. Approximately five new people or families request to be put on the voucher list each month and all must be turned away, she said.
Shay Keil, director of wealth management at Keil Investment Group, introduced Jackley. Kiva, the microloan platform she launched in 2005, allows users to give loans of as little as $25 to entrepreneurs anywhere in the world. According to its website, Kiva has connected 1.6 million lenders with 2.4 million borrowers, facilitating almost $1 billion in microloans, which have a repayment rate of 97.1%.
In her Innovators talk, Jackley emphasized her journey from caring for the poor to helping them empower themselves, illustrating along the way how a small idea in social innovation, like Kiva, can grow and have such a large impact.
She told the Vancouver Sun in an interview, “I think people assume giving is a financial transaction, but what I am way more interested in and what changes the giver, is participating in someone else’s story and doing something outside your comfort zone, giving of your time, sharing a resource.”
“We all have something to offer, and it may not be money,” she also told the Sun. “As we expand the set of what we see as possible things to share, to give, I think we’ll see more abundance and possibility.”
The record revenue raised at this year’s Innovators comes at a time when the demands on JFSA are at record levels. The cost of living in Metro Vancouver, combined with rising food prices, particularly for produce, protein and dairy-based staples, is creating a crisis for many families, Fruchter told the Independent.
“In the past year, due to increasing hardship, the number of families having to use the Jewish Food Bank twice a month has almost doubled. Weekly phone calls seeking help with housing have also doubled over the past two years,” said Fruchter, and demand for help from new immigrants is also high.
“In the past year,” he said, “we have helped over 350 families make their new home in Canada.”
Matthew Gindin is a freelance journalist, writer and lecturer. He writes regularly for the Forward and All That Is Interesting, and has been published in Religion Dispatches, Situate Magazine, Tikkun and elsewhere. He can be found on Medium and Twitter.
Project Isaiah is the annual High Holy Day food drive that assists those members of the community who are in need. All donations go directly to the Jewish Food Bank to assist individuals in the community – seniors, families and newcomers.
Sponsored by Jewish Family Service Agency and Jewish Women International-British Columbia, Project Isaiah is inspired by Isaiah 58:7: “… share your bread with the hungry.”
The Jewish Food Bank’s 2013-14 report, released last week, notes that the situation of the Jewish community mirrors that of the larger community, wherein most people living on fixed incomes or earning minimum wage in British Columbia spend 60 percent of their income or higher on housing, leaving 40 percent or less to cover utilities, medication and clothing, as well as food. With the rapidly growing cost of living, and lower economy, more families are having to access food banks for help:
• 12 percent of B.C. residents are unable to meet basic needs and do not have access to adequately nutritious food in sufficient amounts.
• For the past eight years, British Columbia has been ranked as the highest province in Canada for children living in poverty.
• Food bank usage is at an all-time high.
• 7.7 percent of B.C. residents are considered “food insecure” and go without or on reduced food intake.
The Jewish Food Bank supports almost 400 Jewish individuals. Each time clients visit the food bank, they receive approximately two to three days’ worth of food per individual.
All of the households served live at or below the poverty line and 80 percent of all households spend at least 60 percent of their income on rent. All clients are assessed and authorized by a JFSA caseworker. Currently, the food bank helps 55 children and teenagers, 248 adults and 91 senior adults.
Annually, more than 45 volunteers provide operational support to the food bank. The volunteers do the ordering, pick up donated goods, set up, as well as deliver to more than 50 homebound clients. With additional volunteers for its annual food drives, Project Isaiah, and the newly established Project Sustenance in the spring, volunteers contribute close to 3,500 hours of support.
The food bank is fully funded through the generosity of JFSA donors, the fundraising efforts and donors of JWI-BC, gift-in-kind donations of food through various food drive events, such as Project Isaiah and Project Sustenance, and ongoing donations collected by community partners. This past year, it had an operating budget of $149,200, with in-kind donations of food making up a value of $30,000 of the annual budget.
Close to 40 community partners provide ongoing food donations, supplies and space to support the Jewish Food Bank. These partners help lower the cost of operations and play a critical role.
This year’s Project Isaiah is underway, and the food bank is hoping that you will consider sharing your bread with the hungry (now and throughout the year). Take a bag home from a local synagogue or Jewish day school and return it, filled with food. A suggested shopping list includes high-nutrition items such as canned fish (tuna/salmon/sardines), peanut butter (plastic bottles only), canned fruit, canned vegetables, cooking oil (plastic bottles only), whole grain pasta/rice/cereals, legumes (canned or dried), dried fruit (prunes/apricots) and toiletries (includes children’s diapers). Note: check the “best before date” on products, as expired products cannot be accepted.
If you are unable to contribute food, JFSA and JWI-BC gratefully accept monetary donations (and issue a tax receipt).
For more information about Project Isaiah, contact Debbie Rootman at JFSA (604-257-5151, ext. 230) or [email protected], or Sara Ciacci at JWI-BC (604-838-5567).