For the past 17 years the Jewish Federation-supported Jewish Relief Agency (JRA) has been delivering boxes of food to households all over Greater Philadelphia to help alleviate hunger. Nearly all of their clients have been Jewish older adults and immigrants from the former Soviet Union. But recently, the organization noticed a startling, and heartbreaking, new group of clients: families with children.

“More families are struggling,” says JRA Executive Director Peter Rabinowitz. “More families are living paycheck to paycheck. And if someone loses a job, or has a serious illness without adequate health insurance, or becomes a single parent, the family really struggles.”

JRA usually packs its food boxes with nonperishable kosher food (plus fresh produce when available, like apples in fall or potatoes for latkes in winter). But growing kids have different tastes and needs. With more families calling for food support, a sharp uptick in referrals from Jewish Children and Family Services and delivery volunteers noticing more multigenerational households — as adult children with kids move back in with parents — JRA had to consider the needs of its new client group. And so they recently devised a “Family-Friendly Food Bag” for households with children 16 and under, filled with healthy foods and snacks kids enjoy, like peanut butter and jelly, raisins, fruit cups and whole wheat crackers.

“We will always be there for Bubbe,” Peter says. “Now we’re also there for her grandchildren.”

In the year since the Family Friendly program began, it has expanded with each month; this December, JRA will deliver bags to 175 families. That’s in addition to the over 3,200 boxes JRA packs and delivers each month, serving over 6,000 individuals. Such an effort requires a huge monthly volunteer force of around 1,000 people, who gather in JRA’s warehouse in the Northeast.

On Sunday, December 10th, that volunteer crew will include members of NextGen, Jewish Federation’s affinity group for people ages 21-45, who are welcome to bring families. Children as young as age three can participate in a meaningful way, including packing chocolate gelt into each box so that those in need can celebrate Chanukah. Register here! Or for more information about JRA — including their upcoming annual gala on December 6th visit here.