Jewish Family Service Launches Food Pantry

Jewish Family Service Launches Food Pantry

Despite a common perception that hunger is not a significant issue within the Jewish community, there are in fact many Jews in Central Texas who face economic challenges and could benefit from regular access to free and donated food. To address this need, Jewish Family Service has developed a food pantry that is now available to members of the Jewish community. The pantry is housed in two locations, one at the JFS offices in Northwest Austin, and the other within the Jewish Community Center.

“Food insecurity is a real issue in our Jewish community”, says Gil Levy, Jewish Family Service Executive Director. “JFS works with many people who are facing challenges that impact their access to food. There are a wide range of reasons that contribute to hunger issues. It can stem from job loss, an unanticipated major expense, or an injury, illness, or disability. Food insecurity can impact older adults who live on reduced incomes. While every situation is different, all people who are dealing with economic hardship must make difficult decisions about how to allocate their limited financial resources. Sometimes that results in bills going unpaid, and sometimes it directly impacts ability to purchase enough food. Having regular access to a pantry allows people to supplement their food supply while offsetting some of their expenses and making it easier to cover other recurring costs”.

JFS also works with people who have limited mobility and are unable to easily get to a grocery store or restaurant. One such client is Evelyn R. Cohen-Brown, aged 96. Ms. Cohen-Brown lives independently in a senior living apartment community in far North Austin. Following a recent fall in which she fractured her clavicle, Ms. Cohen-Brown is confined to a wheelchair and is not able to leave her apartment easily or often. While she receives significant support from her son, she also benefits from frequent home visits and assistance from Jewish Family Service. The addition of a food pantry as a resource allows JFS staff to deliver bags of food and personal care items directly to Ms. Cohen-Brown. “I have lived in Austin for sixteen years, but I’m originally from Ohio. Because I am not from here and I don’t live close to the JCC or the shul, I’m not able to participate in the community as much as I would like. Jewish Family Service has taken great care of me and they are there when I need help. I am so pleased they have started a food pantry. I always need kosher food, and I have a hard time getting it. JFS brought me matzah ball mix, gefilte fish, and even a fresh challah on Shabbat.”         

Historically, Jewish Family Service has addressed food insecurity by providing grocery store gift cards to people in need. “We’ve always felt it was important to give people the opportunity to shop for themselves”, says Levy. “A gift card can help address economic hardship and hunger while valuing the privacy and dignity of each individual. However, we’ve also seen that relying solely on this approach has its limits. Not everyone can get to a specific grocery store quickly or easily, and the supply of gift cards we do have isn’t always enough to address each individual’s specific needs. The addition of a food pantry allows us to quickly provide more direct help so that people can immediately prepare a meal and supplement their supply of staple items”.

The JFS food pantry generated initial stock this summer through a food drive conducted in partnership with J Camps. Camp families generously donated many items and teen campers helped to collect, sort and store them in the pantry. Additional donations will be provided this fall through a partnership with Congregation Agudas Achim, which is planning to conduct food drives in coordination with Erev Rosh Hashanah and Kol Nidre services. In the future as the food pantry continues to develop, JFS will explore becoming a partner agency of the Central Texas Food Bank, which would bring additional resources to JFS clients and help to supplement pantry supplies.

Beginning in September, JFS staff plans to host open pantry hours one day per week at each location, during which time people in need will be welcome to walk-in and pick up a bag of food and personal care items. Specific days and hours of operation have not yet been finalized. All donated items must be non-perishable, unexpired food or personal care items. Smaller, non-bulk sized items are appreciated for easy storage and packing. JFS does anticipate supplying food to people who keep kosher or are in need of kosher items, however the pantry is not strictly kosher.■

More information on obtaining food or making a donation to the pantry is available by contacting Jewish Family Service at (512) 250-1043 or at jfs@shalomaustin.org.

JFS encourages people interested in making a donation to the pantry to consider selecting from a broad range of items such as:

  • Rice
  • Beans
  • Canned vegetables/fruit
  • Soups
  • Cooking oils
  • Nuts
  • Dried Pasta
  • Tomato Sauces
  • Kosher Items
  • Tuna
  • Oatmeal
  • Cereal
  • Peanut butter and jelly
  • Local Honey
  • Baking supplies (flour, sugar etc.)
  • Crackers
  • Granola bars/energy bars
  • Salad dressings
  • Spices and seasonings
  • Toothpaste and toothbrushes
  • Mouthwash
  • Shampoo and conditioner
  • Soap or body wash
  • Deodorant
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