Debbie Rootman, community developer and program coordinator for the Jewish Food Bank.
On Sunday, June 1, from 1-4 p.m., the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver will be the site of Project Sustenance, a major food drive in support of the Jewish Food Bank. Community members, who are encouraged to bring non-perishable food items to donate, will be treated to live entertainment, a kosher barbecue and a kids-oriented crafts table hosted by Vancouver Talmud Torah. The drive is organized in partnership between the Jewish Family Service Agency (JFSA), Beth Tikvah Synagogue, Jewish Women International (JWI) and the JCCGV.
The idea for the drive came from Beth Tikvah’s Francie Steen and Shelley Ail, who is the lead food bank volunteer, said Debbie Rootman, community developer and program coordinator for the Jewish Food Bank. Steen and Ail are event co-chairs.
This is the first year of Project Sustenance, but JFSA “hopes to have it annually, because hunger is 365 days a year,” Rootman told the Independent. In an average month, she said, the Jewish Food Bank provides meals for 250 people, 65 of whom are children. “On top of helping so many people in the community,” Rootman said, “on special times of the year, like Passover and Rosh Hashanah, we distribute hampers to another 170 clients of Jewish Family Service Agency.”
Project Sustenance is meant to be the second food drive of the year for the Jewish Food Bank, which organizes Project Isaiah each High Holiday season with the help of local synagogues. Rootman and her colleagues had “always talked about doing another one in the spring, but haven’t had the time or volunteer power to do it,” she said. In fact, by about January every year, the food bank has usually run out of the goods donated in the fall. Typically, after January, the food bank has had to largely rely on cash donations, “so that way we can buy food, which we do bi-weekly for fresh vegetables and fresh bread and other things that we need,” she added.
“It was started as a temporary measure, but we’ve still got it today. So, it has grown. Many of the reasons [for that growth] are because Vancouver is very expensive, so some of the people we see are working poor … disabled people, elderly people, people on fixed incomes we are helping, as well as people going through tough times … everybody has challenges in their life, so we are here to help for those times.”
The Jewish Food Bank “was started 33 years ago by two women,” Rootman said. “It was started as a temporary measure, but we’ve still got it today. So, it has grown. Many of the reasons [for that growth] are because Vancouver is very expensive, so some of the people we see are working poor … disabled people, elderly people, people on fixed incomes we are helping, as well as people going through tough times.” She added, “everybody has challenges in their life, so we are here to help for those times.” Her personal philosophy, she said, is that “charity begins at home.”
The Jewish Food Bank operates out of the Peretz Centre for Secular Jewish Culture every other Thursday and is organized and staffed by volunteers. Elaborating on the scope and value of those contributions, Rootman said, “The Jewish Food Bank could not operate without the many volunteers.” She said there is always a need for volunteers to drive goods to clients who lack mobility, to organize food at the bi-weekly food banks and to sort Project Isaiah food donations in the fall. Right now, they are hoping that more volunteers will step forward to help with “set up and take down on June 1, as well as sorting” the donations.
The Jewish Food Bank is a community-wide effort, and Project Sustenance is no different. Aside from Steen and Ail, JWI’s Sara Ciacci has been involved in Project Sustenance through “major fundraising for the Jewish Food Bank,” said Rootman, and the JCCGV has donated the space for the June 1 drive. Some of the other major sponsors include Broadway Moving, which has donated a truck to transport the donated food, Omnitsky’s Kosher, which is providing kosher hot dogs, and Signarama Richmond.
Project Sustenance follows Beth Tikvah Synagogue’s presentation of A Place at the Table, a film that screened on May 13 to raise awareness about hunger in the community. The documentary explores the various issues surrounding hunger and the means to solving this serious problem. The screening was followed by a panel discussion, which included Rootman, who said she found the film to be “very powerful,” and Alex Nixon from the Richmond Food Bank. The panelists connected the information in A Place at the Table to Canada and the local Jewish community.
For those who are unable to attend on June 1, “food donations can be dropped off at any synagogue, Jewish school, the JFSA office or the JCC,” Rootman said. Community members can also make a cash or credit card donation by calling JFSA at 604-257-5151.
Zach Sagorin is a Vancouver freelance writer.