Feeding Hope: The Vital Role of JFS Food Pantry in Charlotte’s Jewish Community

By Shira Firestone

In the greater Charlotte area, an already pressing issue of food insecurity has further escalated, affecting the lives of many within our Jewish community. Exacerbated by recent inflation and the ongoing effects of the pandemic, this persistent issue has forced an increasing number of our neighbors to face difficult decisions between meeting essential needs. At the forefront of confronting this escalating challenge is the Jewish Family Services of Greater Charlotte (JFS) Food Pantry, which provides much more than meals — it offers dignity, support, and a sense of community to those in need.

Recent statistics from Mecklenburg County reveal that about 15% of households wrestle with food insecurity. For the Jewish community, this statistic is not just a number but a reflection of real stories. Individuals like Allison, a single mother working part-time to align with her children’s school schedules, find themselves at a crossroads between paying for utilities or groceries. For Ruth, an 84-yearold living on a fixed income, the pantry offers not only food but companionship and a connection to the community she cherishes. These stories underscore the escalating demand for the JFS Food Pantry’s services, which saw a doubling in utilization by community members in need in 2023.

The pantry, a sub-pantry of NourishUp (formerly Loaves and Fishes) is not only staffed by volunteers onsite, but volunteers who make food deliveries. Pantry clients can complete their menu orders on-line and volunteers put their orders together for pick up or delivery every other week. More than 100 members of our community rely on the JFS food pantry every month.

The foundation of the JFS Food Pantry’s success lies in the unwavering support of the Charlotte Jewish community.

From the diverse contributions of groups like the Shalom Club at Sun City, Temple Beth El’s SPICE group, Temple Israel’s Gemilut Hasadim, to the youth at LJCC’s basketball league, and beyond, it’s evident that the strength of our response to this crisis is communal. The Hadassah Preppies generously donate their time and resources to prepare healthy meals that are distributed to food pantry clients. The Shalom Green initiative’s contribution of fresh produce from its garden at Shalom Park adds a layer of nutrition and care to the assistance provided.

However, the fabric of our support network is woven with the individual threads of every community member’s effort.

One doesn’t need to be a part of a large, established organization to participate in collecting food. Consider organizing your own drive through your office or as a b’nei mitzvah project.

Traditional food drives, while essential, are just the beginning. We encourage every segment of our community to think creatively about how they can contribute. Why not consider a food donation in lieu of gifts at your next birthday party? Such gestures not only enrich the giver and receiver but also weave a stronger bond within our community.

Beyond birthday donations, there are numerous ways to integrate the spirit of giving into our daily lives and special occasions. Here are a few suggestions to inspire further community involvement:

• Special Occasion Collections: Encourage guests at anniversaries, graduations, or any celebration to bring non-perishable food items. Celebrating milestones can also mean making a difference in the lives of others.

• Office Pantry Drives: Engage your workplace in organizing a food drive.

• Community Challenges: Initiate a challenge within your synagogue, sports team, or book club. Set a collective goal for donations and celebrate your achievement with a communal event, reinforcing the ties that bind us.

• Mitzvah baskets: Purchase a bima basket or mitzvah basket centerpiece for your next simcha.

As we prepare for Passover, let’s remember that the need for the JFS Food Pantry is yearround. The pantry specifically organizes drives for Passover meals, ensuring all can celebrate with dignity, but the ongoing support from the community is vital. Direct donations are always welcome at the pantry every other Wednesday, and dropoff boxes conveniently located at Shalom Park in the JCC building and temples year-round, or consider organizing a drive within your circles. This year, community members will have the opportunity to contribute to the JFS food pantry at the community Purim celebration on Sunday, March 24 from 12-3 p.m. at Shalom Park.

The stories of Allison, Ruth, and many others are a poignant reminder of the role each of us plays in the well-being of our community. Jewish Family Services and its food pantry are the vessels through which our collective generosity flows, but it is the spirit of the Charlotte Jewish community that fills these vessels with hope, support, and sustenance. Consider how you can contribute, embracing both established paths and innovative approaches to ensure no one in our community has to choose between essential needs. By coming together in support and creativity, we not only address immediate needs but also build a stronger, more resilient community ready to face challenges with compassion and solidarity.

For further information on making food donations or purchasing a mitzvah basket contact Roberta Rodgers at Roberta. [email protected] To see a list of current food needs visit www.jfscharlotte.org.

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