When the pandemic put an end to in-person community gatherings, the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey had to reimagine its hallmark March Mega Food Drive, which addresses local food insecurity. Traditionally, the community project included a month-long food collection, and had many drop-off sites. Hundreds of people would gather to sort the food for local food pantries and also would pack snack packs for children who experience hunger insecurity on the weekends.
This year, the need for filling food pantries and providing snack packs has grown exponentially.
According to Shara Nadler, the federation’s volunteer center manager, “the collections have just started throughout the community and our goal is to deliver 8,000 pounds of food to 15 local food pantries.” The snack pack collection also had to be reimagined. “Last year we donated 1,000 snack packs to the Center for Food Action,” Ms. Nadler said. “This year, because the need is so great, we will be donating over 5,000 snacks packs to the Center for Food Action as well as to some local schools, the Boys and Girls Club of Paterson, and to CUMAC.” (CUMAC is a Paterson-based nonprofit agency that fights hunger.)
The snack packs are being assembled at pop-ups at people’s homes to ensure safety. Families sign up, pick up the food at federation’s offices, and then return the completed snack packs. According to Mega Food Drive co-chair Yael Rabitz, “the pop-up response has been overwhelming, and we have hundreds of people participating. Families get to do this together and it becomes very meaningful for the family because they are performing such an important mitzvah.”
Over the summer, the federation implemented its Supplies for Success program, and in the fall it ran Mitzvah Day on the Move using a similar model. “We can’t and won’t let this pandemic stop us from providing necessary services to the broader community,” Mega Food Drive co-chair Geri Cantor said. “The needs are growing every day. With a little creativity, we figured out a great solution to safely meet the needs of our community.”
Co-chair Tiffany Kaplan, said “We even added an Amazon Wish List for purchasing food and gift cards so people don’t have to feel uncomfortable going into stores or coming to the office to drop off food. And, we are encouraging teenagers to get involved by having their own mini collections for pet food. When families are hungry, their pets become food insecure too.”
According to the federation’s CEO, Jason Shames, “We are thrilled with the response from the community. This pop-up concept has been extraordinarily successful. By the end of March we will have done more than 100 all over the community.”