by Naomi Adler
President & CEO, Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia
Each year I take this sacred High Holiday season to consider the role the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia plays in the day-to-day lives of our region’s Jews. The season itself provides answers. On Rosh Hashanah, we dip apples in honey to celebrate the New Year; on Yom Kippur, many of us go without food, then break our fasts with bagels and lox. Food is inextricably linked to life. And yet, incredibly, over 11,000 Jews in our Greater Philadelphia region are food insecure. About one in seven Jewish households have an annual income below $25,000, and 28% of Jewish households report they either cannot pay for basic expenses or are just managing to meet needs.
As our area’s central hub of Jewish life, the Jewish Federation takes seriously our responsibility to confront our communities’ challenges. Each year, our Mitzvah Food Program and its five pantries serve 8,000 individuals, and that number continues to rise. It’s hard to reconcile that food insecurity remains a problem in the 21st century. But we can all agree that it deserves a 21st century solution.
That’s why the Jewish Federation has begun tackling food insecurity from new, innovative angles. We started five years ago by offering digital touch-screen technology at food pantries so that clients can select their own nutritious groceries, an approach which enhances the dignity of clients, promotes healthy eating and reduces food waste. Building on the program’s success, this past year we rolled out a cutting-edge online grocery delivery model for our Mitzvah food banks, allowing our clients to log in from their personal phones or any computer, select their groceries, and order them either for pickup or home delivery. Yes, delivery — a minor miracle for those in our communities who are homebound. (Read more about the program here.)
Giving people the power and dignity of choice is an important step. But we recognize that as a society, we need to do more to fight hunger. This November, I invite you to join us at our one-day international food summit, Hungry for Change, co-sponsored by Hazon Philadelphia, in which we’ll discuss strategies for food security, recovery and justice, including issues of sustainability, public policy and philanthropy. And meanwhile, I urge you to take part in our High Holiday Food Drive, which takes place in synagogues across Greater Philadelphia, and collects over 50,000 pounds of nutritious food on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. That food is later sorted by Jewish Federation volunteers and distributed to our food pantries, supplementing client orders for over four months.
As we look ahead to the year 5779, let us strive to ensure that all members of our communities have the power of food choice and security. L’Shanah Tovah.