Jewish Family Service hunger campaign wins award
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Jewish Family Service hunger campaign wins award

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These graphics draw attention to hunger in the community.

When a college graduate in his 30s came in to arrange help with a dental problem, his case manager learned that he hadn’t eaten in two days.

That story and similar ones are being told with increasing frequency at Jewish Family Service in Teaneck.

“We didn’t let him leave hungry,” said Jeff Nadler, director of development for JFS of Bergen and North Hudson and initiator of the group’s hunger campaign. But with more clients coming in hungry, the agency soon realized that emergency food assistance and supermarket gift cards were no longer sufficient.

“So we started a food pantry,” said Nadler. “Not as big as those run by local towns, but big enough to help out clients who are skipping meals in order to feed their children.”

Nadler said some of the people they feed might not go to their synagogues or to public food pantries “out of embarrassment. A lot of how we approach this is about restoring people’s dignity, getting them on the right track again.”

To support this venture – as well as Kosher Meals on Wheels, which relies heavily on donations from individuals – in September 2010 JFS launched a communications initiative focusing specifically on the issue of hunger.

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Jeff Nadler

That initiative, and the graphic artist that helped convey its message, were recently honored for “communications excellence.” In May, JFS received an Aramark Building Community 2011 Innovation Award, while Debbie Barnett, president of Barnett Design, won the Hermes Platinum Award – the highest honor bestowed by the Association of Marketing and Communication Professionals. Barnett’s design, created for the JFS Wheels for Meals project, featured a bicycle made out of a plate and eating utensils.

Aramark is an international food-service company that has teamed up with the Alliance for Children and Families, to which JFS belongs. Aramark Building Community is the company’s signature philanthropic and volunteer program, which, according to its website, “enriches the lives of low-income families by strengthening the capacity of local, place-based community centers.”

“We launched the hunger campaign to bring attention to hunger in the community and to attract donations and support,” said Nadler, noting that this was the first time an organizational message focused on a specific theme rather than on the menu of services offered by the organization. Using the money raised by the campaign – as well as food donations from individuals and synagogues – JFS can provide food directly to clients in need.

“Once this initiative started, we began doing outreach to synagogues, asking that it be their tzedakah project of the month or that they do food drives,” said Nadler. “One young father living in Englewood came with two of his kids and unloaded an entire car filled with food.”

So far, the campaign has included a direct mail appeal during Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, an end-of-year direct mail project, the annual “Night of 100 Dinners,” adapted to reflect the group’s message, and Wheels for Meals: A Ride to Fight Hunger in Bergen County.

The effort kicked off with a High Holiday message in The Jewish Standard “that was provocative without being rude,” said Nadler. The ad, showing an empty paper bag, included the words, “Millions will fast this Yom Kippur. Unfortunately, thousands have a head start.” The reverse side began with the appeal, “Your neighbors are hungry and need your help.”

“We had an amazing response,” said Nadler.

The end-of-year appeal repeated the paper bag image, bearing the words, “Hunger. In our neighborhood? Yes, and you can help.”

That, too, drew a “powerful response,” said Nadler.

The development director noted the irony in the name of the “Night of 100 Dinners,” but said it helped make the point that “we’re enjoying this wonderful meal but there are those who can’t, who are struggling.”

The group’s most recent event, Wheels for Meals, spearheaded by teenager/philanthropist David Feuerstein – who was profiled in the Standard last year – was a great success, said Nadler, explaining that his desire for JFS “to find ways for families and young people to participate” dovetailed perfectly with David’s desire to support the agency. While the project “came together quickly,” it attracted more than 150 riders and raised some $50,000.

“We asked riders to each try to raise $180, to equal one month of Kosher Meals on Wheels for one person,” said Nadler.

While, following each fundraiser, donations have grown substantially over last year’s figures, the hunger campaign is not finished, he said.

“There’s still a huge need,” he said, pointing out that the agency must raise some $175,000 in donations to run its hunger programs. “We’ll keep going to the community to try to build them.”

For further information, visit www.jfsbergen.org.

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