Rabbi Moses Maimonides once said, “Never have I seen or heard of a Jewish community that did not have a charity fund.”
In fact, in the times of the Bible when the Temple was being built, King Solomon was prohibited from using the silver and gold that his father, King David, had accumulated because that wealth should be used to feed the poor during those three years of famine.
The Squirrel Hill Food Pantry provides kosher food to an average of 480 individuals each month. In 2008 it served 680 individuals — more unduplicated individuals than in any other year. The largest group served by the Squirrel Hill Food Pantry is older adults, who account for almost half of all food pantry clients.
The pantry began regular fresh produce distribution in 2007 after a grant from the local Samuel M. Goldston Teen Philanthropy Project enabled it to purchase a commercial refrigerator.
New to 2009 is the opportunity for individuals to donate food online via the pantry’s Web site. Users can specifically choose what type of food they want to donate and how many bushels or crates of each. While they won’t actually see the produce being delivered, they can be assured that if they pay $20 for a case of bananas, the money will be spent on bananas and not something else.
“We were looking for innovative ways to raise additional funds for the Food Pantry, especially since we’re helping more and more individuals and families that used to make ends meet but now can’t,” said Laurie Gottlieb, director of marketing and fundraising, Jewish Family & Children’s Service. “The virtual food drive — online at sqfoodpantry.org — is a new, online fundraising tool that allows donors to pledge dollars toward specific fresh produce items for our Food Pantry clients. Our partners at the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank highly recommended it after they found it a useful tool for raising incremental dollars. The virtual food drive isn’t meant to replace traditional giving, but it’s a new, easy, fast and fun way to help those in need in our community,”
Each year the pantry makes an appeal for donations because of the enormous amount of produce it provides to its clients.
“We distribute an average of 3,000 pounds of produce per month,” said Becky Abrams, director of the Squirrel Hill Food Pantry. “To sustain the fresh produce initiative, we make a special appeal to the community. This year, our appeal coincides with the launch of a virtual food drive.
“The virtual food drive is a response to organizations like synagogues, that want to make it easier for their members to give to the Squirrel Hill Food Pantry throughout the year,” she continued. “Even if an organization doesn’t have a collection bin for kosher canned goods and other nonperishable items their members can feel like they’re donating food to those in need in our
The virtual food drive is especially appealing for families with small children, who are teaching them what it means to give. Placing the items into the online shopping cart can make quite an impact, especially as the younger donors can decide what foods to give. Apples, oranges, potatoes, tomatoes, green beans and more — there are many nutritious choices that even young children can help to make by adding to the cart.
In an age where the computer is everything to young children, choosing an apple or a banana and clicking the mouse allows a child to give tzedaka and make healthy nutrition choices at the same time. It’s a lot of fun.
“Our daughter, Abigail, always has a food drive as part of her birthday celebration to support the Squirrel Hill Food Pantry, and giving to the virtual food drive allowed us to make two donations this year,” contributor Lorien Hart said. “Contributing online helps to make it that much easier to support a worthy organization.”
“The virtual food drive is an especially convenient way to donate, and choosing from the various fresh food options helped us to give our children a more tangible view of how we are feeding those in need,” contributor Stacey Reibach said.
The pantry has plans to expand the virtual food drive to include canned goods and other nutritious, nonperishable foods like tuna, peanut butter and cereal in the coming months. They also are able to customize individual virtual food drives for organizations, congregations or businesses, who would like to hold their own virtual food drive for the Squirrel Hill Food Pantry.
Since 1998, JF&CS’s Squirrel Hill Food Pantry has worked to end food insecurity through an integrated approach of food assistance and supportive services. The Squirrel Hill Food Pantry procures and distributes supplemental food to all income-eligible individuals and families in the 15217 zip code area and anyone who keeps kosher in southwestern Pennsylvania.
Recognizing that food insecurity is but a symptom of underlying issues, Food Pantry clients also meet with a JF&CS social worker to determine what other supportive services may help them achieve and maintain stability. Clients then are linked with resources available through JF&CS (such as career services, mental health counseling and senior services) or other, outside sources.
(Dev Meyers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)