Odds are that no one will take you up on your invitation at the seder, “let all who are hungry come and eat.”
In part, that is because suburban Jews for the most part do not wait for the last minute to make their arrangements.
It is also due to the fact that 212 needy families in Bergen County got something better on Tuesday than an invitation: They received boxes of food, enough to last for all of Passover, from Tomchei Shabbos of Bergen County.
Founded in 1990, Tomchei Shabbos – Hebrew for “supporters of the Sabbath” – is an all-volunteer organization that provides weekly food packages for people in need throughout Bergen County. In a typical week, says Sara Walzman, a Bergenfield volunteer, the group distributes about 180 packages.
“Pesach is an expensive holiday. We reached out to a number of organizations to find people who could use the help for the holiday,” she says.
Tomchei Shabbos began its Pesach preparation back in February, with a fundraising campaign in which donors could sponsor Passover for a large family for $500, or for a small family for $360.
Most of the food is purchased by Tomchei Shabbos, although more than 1,000 pounds of matzah was donated by individuals, and some bat mitzvah-age girls had collected chocolate and candy, as well as coffee and tea.
The food packages, which were packed by volunteers on Monday and Tuesday at Teaneck’s Congregation Bnai Yeshurun and Fair Lawn’s Darchei Noam, included gefilte fish, kosher for Passover spices, chicken, vegetables, fruit, matzah, maccaroons, mayonnaise, potato kugels, and more.
“Every package is different,” says Walzman, based on what the receiving family will eat, and based on the size of the family.
Recipients are referred to Tomchei Shabbos by rabbis and organizations. “A principal of a yeshivah might call us and let us know there’s a family that can use assistance,” she says.
Dozens of volunteer drivers deliver the food each week.
“Drivers are carefully selected to make sure they don’t know the recipients. Some recipients would like to remain completely anonymous and we’re careful to respect those wishes. Some love to meet the people, because they’re elderly and they appreciate the visit. One of my friends goes with her children; the elderly couple really like the companionship.
“The beauty of Tomchei Shabbos is that it’s not only for someone who comes on and stays on forever; we’re also happy to help people for two weeks, a month. Life throws a curveball sometime. We’re just happy to help anyone who needs a hand. This way, they can have peace of mind and have tranquility on Shabbos and know that whatever else is chaotic in their life, they can have chicken and challah, food for their family, in a peaceful fashion.”