Happy Purim!
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Happy Purim!

Federation donors and volunteers collect and assemble shalach manot baskets

Andrew Kent unloads grape juice destined for shalach manot. (JFNNJ)
Andrew Kent unloads grape juice destined for shalach manot. (JFNNJ)

A  few weeks ago, Shara Nadler received a phone call from a woman in her 90s, a resident of the Daughters of Miriam Center in Clifton.

Ms. Nadler is manager of the volunteer center of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey.

The woman wanted to know: Would the federation be bringing any food packages to celebrate Purim?

“Yes,” Ms. Nadler said. “Our volunteers will prepare shalach manot food baskets.”

“I’m really happy to hear it,” the woman replied. “I can’t wait to get it.”

Ms. Nadler could “hear the smile in her voice,” she said later.

But Ms. Nadler was smiling too — because a phone call back in July had set the stage for the 750 gift baskets that volunteers are now returning to the federation’s Paramus offices to be distributed come Purim to the Daughters of Miriam, to participants in the Meals on Wheels program of the Jewish Family & Children’s Services of Northern New Jersey, and to customers of that organization’s food pantry.

The call was from Irv Glass; his company, Glass Gardens, owns and operates a chain of ShopRite grocery stores, including those in Englewood, Paramus, and Rochelle Park. He proposed to work with some of his suppliers to arrange for the donation of enough food to stock 750 Purim gift baskets.

“We ended up getting a great assortment of items,” Andrew Kent said. Mr. Kent is executive vice president at Glass Gardens and Mr. Glass’ stepson. (The family firm traces its roots to a produce business Mr. Glass’ father and uncle started in 1938.)

Mr. Kent said that he has worked on shalach manot gift baskets with the sisterhoods of Temple Sinai in Tenafly, where he lives, and Temple Emanu-El in Closter, where he is a member.

“But in those communities, everyone is kind of giving each other baskets,” he said. “The reality is there is less of a need than those who are served by JFCS or Daughters of Miriam. It was Irv’s idea to have a more substantive celebratory gift basket for people who are in need.”

Their company partnered with three other New Jersey food companies:  Kayco, the Bayonne-based company that owns Manischewitz, Kedem, and other kosher food brands; Rima, which imports Ryvita crackers; and David’s Cookies. The result is an assortment of 12 products — all OU-certified kosher — that include grape juice, brownies, apple sauce, and canned tuna fish.

The selection was influenced by Mr. Kent’s recent experience volunteering at the JFCS pantry alongside his son Eli, who is making support for JFCS part of his mitzvah project for his upcoming bar mitzvah. “We stock a lot of those items in the pantry, so I knew those would be well-received,” Mr. Kent said.

Mr. Kent is on the board of the JFCS, as well as of JFNNJ and the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades. He said that Mr. Glass and his mother’s family “were involved in the federation way back when, in the 50s and 60s. To me, honoring their legacy of investing in the community is important.”

Because of covid, federation volunteers picked up the donated food and assembled the gift baskets at home; the 100 volunteers have begun returning the finished baskets. The federation received a donation of six storage units to hold the food drive’s food.

That is only piece of what the federation calls its “March Megafood Drive.”

Another piece is encouraging the donation of food at drop-off points — synagogues, Hebrew schools, and businesses — across Bergen, Hudson, and Passaic Counties, to be distributed to  food pantries throughout the region.

“The goal is to collect and distribute 20,000 pounds of food,” Ms. Nadler said.

Details of the drop-off locations are online atjfnnj.org/fighthunger; there also is an Amazon wish list, where food can be ordered for delivery to the federation. (Donated food should be nutritious — sorry, candy lovers! — nonperishable, and not packaged in glass.)

Meanwhile, a new generation of volunteers is helping out: A teen committee of high school students is on the project.

“They’re working through their networks, their high schools and BBYO and so forth,” Ms. Nadler said. “They’re collecting not just people food but pet food.” That’s at the request of the food pantries, which are asked for canned food to help needy pet owners.

“It’s a group of 12 teens from Bergen, Passaic, and Hudson Counties, who are looking for leadership opportunities and are really interested in food insecurity,” Ms. Nadler added.  “They are reaching out to their  principals, their teachers, their clubs. They are very proactive.”

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