Combatting Hunger

Last year Jewish Family and Child Service’s annual Thanksgiving food box gala had all the makings of success. Falling smack on the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland’s Community Action Day, the number of volunteers jumped threefold compared to typical years. But this year, stars have aligned to pair Hanukah and Thanksgiving on the same day. JFCS needs an army to stuff Thanksgiving boxes and Mitzvah Menorah.

Adopt-A-Family presents all on Nov. 24. Can you and your family help?

“It’s a festive event,” says JFCS Homemaker Services Case Manager Missy Fry. “Last year, people wore turkey hats. We set up stations – turkey, pumpkin pie and everyone was hands-on. Someone with a pushcart came around collecting. About 100 people were inside assembling, and 50 drivers delivered the food. We served 144 households, which was 483 individuals.”

In addition to box stuffers and drivers, the programs depend on synagogues, agencies and individuals to collect nonperishable food, adopt families and donate money to cover costs. Donations go straight to JFCS clients, Emergency Aid Case Manager Maria Rehbach says. They resemble the low-income population throughout the country: most are elderly, have children, or are disabled. Holocaust survivors need special services, and last year 10 families requested kosher food.

“When you ask our clients what they want for Adopt-A-Family presents, they often request gift cards for food or household items,” Maria says. “We get each family’s wishes and needs. People ask for diapers and wipes or a pan so they can cook. One Holocaust survivor who cannot chew asked for a meat grinder. Every request has a story behind it. The key point is there are hunger issues in our community, and JFCS takes an active role.”

Of course, JFCS hunger programs continue all year, with volunteers and donations always in demand. As a host agency for the Oregon Food Bank nutrition program, clients learn how to cook and eat a healthful diet on their limited budgets. In partnership with Congregation Kesser Israel, JFCS brought 108 households Passover boxes last year. They help with the annual “Day of Dignity,” which supplies free medical care and other services; work with the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland Community Relations Committee advocating in the state legislature on hunger issues such as school breakfasts; and keep track of food banks and other resources. In addition to bigger projects, they hand out emergency grocery gift certificates. Still, many find the Thanksgiving and Hanukah programs the most instantly rewarding, especially for volunteers who deliver packages right to those in need. “It’s a good reminder of why we work so hard,” says Missy. “This is the perfect opportunity to come together and support the community.”

Thanksgiving and Mitzvah Menorah Adopt-a-Family boxes will be assembled on Nov. 24 at Congregation Neveh Shalom. To learn more about the
programs or to sign up and help, visit the JFCS website at jfcs-portland.org or call volunteer coordinator Liz Connor at 503-226-7079.

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