Together at the kosher food pantry are, from left, Adolf Herst, Debra Levenstein, Patty Herst, and Linda Meisel.
Photo by Marilyn Silverstein
March 17, 2009
A Bucks County couple has launched an initiative to help the region’s kosher food bank keep up with soaring demand.
Adolf and Patty Herst of New Hope have made a $25,000 challenge grant to the Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Greater Mercer County’s Ohel Avraham Kosher Food Pantry.
In response to the couple’s grant, JFCS has launched a Family-to-Family Kosher Food Pantry Challenge, said JFCS executive director Linda Meisel during a recent meeting at the agency’s offices with the Hersts and Debra Levenstein, JFCS director of prevention and support services.
The challenge invites “people to talk with their children about stepping up,” Meisel said. “Even the youngest child can understand food and the need for people to have food. It creates an opportunity to have a conversation about responsibility and about helping fellow community members.”
With the severe economic downturn, the need for emergency food supplies has increased dramatically, Levenstein said. “It’s families who have lost jobs, or families on the cusp of not being able to make ends meet,” she said. “Now it’s just that much more difficult for them to keep their heads above water.
“Over the last couple of months, we’ve probably taken on about two families a week,” she added. “The easiest way for us to assist them is to have them use the food pantry.”
Over the years, as JFCS has run its food drives at the synagogues, Levenstein said, the agency estimated a need for about 35 bags of food per month.
“We probably need 70 bags a month now,” she said. “So it’s been a real struggle for us.”
“The food is flying off the shelves,” Meisel said. “We’ve never experienced the level of use of the pantry that we’re experiencing now.”
Just a few steps away from where they were sitting, the sparsely stocked pantry gave witness to what the JFCS executives had just said. One shelf held two packages of cookies, one package of ziti, two boxes of sponge cake mix, and one can of pineapple mango juice. Door shelves displayed perhaps a half-dozen vacuum-sealed packages of milk. Other shelves held cans of tuna and soup, boxes of cereal, a few jars of spaghetti sauce, a few boxes of rice.
“It is sparse,” Levenstein said. She noted that twice each month, pantry patrons are welcome to take one bag of food for each family member.
‘Time to reach out’
In addition to the food, JFCS also distributes supermarket vouchers to those in need, Meisel said.
“In fiscal 2008, we gave out $18,050 in these vouchers,” she said. “From July 1 until the end of January, we had already given out $15,000 — and that doesn’t include the vouchers we give to our Holocaust survivors.
“Most of our people are in that nether land of earning too much money for food stamps and yet not having enough money to adequately feed their families,” she said. “The other thing is, an increased number of truly kosher people are using our pantry.”
“Usually, the Orthodox community takes care of their own,” Levenstein said, “but the need has increased, so we see them coming and asking for assistance from us. We’re the only pantry they would trust.”
Everything indicates that the increased demand on the pantry is not going to be short-lived, Meisel said. “That’s why we’re so happy about the challenge grant.”
Patty Herst, a Princeton attorney, was president of the JFCS board from 2001 to 2003 and a volunteer on the agency’s board and executive committee for some 18 years. Adolf Herst, president and co-CEO of Princeton Global Asset Management, is a longtime board member of Greenwood House and chair of the investment committee of the Greenwood House Foundation.
As he and his wife thought about making the grant, Adolf Herst said, directing their tzedaka toward the kosher food pantry seemed like a more than appropriate thing to do.
“I don’t believe anyone should go without food,” he said. “If that’s not something that should be attacked right now, I don’t know what is. We just decided: Let’s try to help out in this area.”
This is a critical area of concern, said Patty Herst, who was recently honored for her service to JFCS at the agency’s Denim and Diamonds fund-raiser.
“Nobody wants anybody to go hungry,” she said. “It’s not people in some corner of Trenton or in some hidden little spot in our community. It’s our next-door neighbors. It’s people down the street.”
“We hope people will step up,” Adolf Herst said. “Now is the time to reach out and help one another. We hope this is duplicated in other communities and people think to help with this particular problem. Here, they can really directly impact somebody’s life.”
For information about the challenge grant, or about donating nonperishable food to the kosher food pantry, contact Levenstein at 609-987-8100.