Every October, the cavernous SHARE Food Program’s warehouse becomes home to a wonderful sight: hundreds of bright orange tote bags, each heavy with cans of tuna fish, sardines, beans, jars of peanut butter — altogether, over 40,000 pounds of nourishing food. All this plenty, collected during the Jewish Federation’s Mitzvah Food Project High Holiday Food Drive, is destined for the Jewish Federation’s five pantries across Greater Philadelphia, to supplement food orders for four months. It’s an overwhelming demonstration of our communities’ caring. But the food can’t be delivered to pantry shelves, and to food-insecure clients, without someone sorting through it all first. That’s where Women’s Philanthropy’s Food Sort comes in.

“I love doing the Food Sort!” enthuses longtime volunteer Amy Wittenstein, a lay leader on the Mitzvah Food Project’s advisory committee. “It’s fun and really hands-on. It’s the power of women coming together, for such a good cause.”

For the last six years, Women’s Philanthropy of the Jewish Federation has taken on the Food Sort as their fall project. Led by co-chairs Amy N. Cohen and Jill Sloane, volunteers spend the morning tossing expired or crushed food, separating out any non-Kosher items, and finally, sorting each item into categories. It’s not all work, though; volunteers say some of the event’s appeal is being a great place to hang out with like-minded women. “It’s a big social outlet,” says Amy. “It’s loud. You meet all the people around you. It’s a great event.”

Once sorted, the food is stored at SHARE, then trucked to its destinations, ready for client orders. For Amy, who also volunteers weekly at the Kleinlife pantry location, it’s gratifying to be involved in the process from beginning to end. “I feel strongly about feeding people who need the food, and the people we serve really need it,” she says. “I go to the Food Sort, and then we put it on the shelf and I actually give it to clients. So it’s really a full circle for me. That’s why I love it so much.”

For more information or to register for this year’s food sort — on Monday, October 30 — visit our High Holiday Food Sort page.