Every weekday just about noon, a gray-haired woman climbs the front stairs to the Teaneck home of an elderly man too frail to leave his house. She greets him warmly and carries a Styrofoam container to his kitchen table. While they chat and he begins to eat the hot meal she delivered, she checks that he’s well and able to eat. This process is repeated in every one of the eight homes she delivers food to every Tuesday.
"I check up on my people on a daily basis," she says, "just to make sure everyone’s okay."
All this comes via a plate of roast chicken, string beans, and mashed potatoes.
Such is the mission of the volunteers at Kosher Meals on Wheels, based in Teaneck, one of three programs delivering glatt kosher food to the homebound elderly in Bergen and Passaic counties. From Monday through Friday, volunteers pick up hot meals from the Jewish Center of Teaneck to deliver to dozens of people in Teaneck and the surrounding towns. Programs also operate out of Fair Lawn and Paterson.
"The volunteers who deliver meals are the eyes and ears of our agency. They are the ones who connect with the clients," states Linda Storfer, coordinator of the Kosher Meals on Wheels program, which is run by Jewish Family Service of Bergen County, in Teaneck. Her Fair Lawn counterpart, Miriam Adelsberg, coordinator of Kosher Meals on Wheels for the Jewish Family and Children’s Service of North Jersey, reports that the group’s drivers have saved some lives when clients have fallen and broken their hips or have been unable to get up from the floor.
Funding for the Teaneck program comes from a federal grant administered through Bergen County’s Department of Senior Services and the UJA of Northern New Jersey. Recipients also pay a sliding-scale fee for their meals, which cost from $3 to $6 each.
But being served by the Kosher Meals on Wheels program has nothing to do with money; the real qualifier is inability to get out. Mimi Paperman, director of Senior Services at the JFS, says, "We want to help people in the most physical need."
Most participants in the Kosher Meals on Wheels programs are Jewish, but not all. A few of the volunteers in the Teaneck program are Christians, and there are some non-Jewish recipients as well, who qualify for dietary reasons. The program that serves Fair Lawn and Elmwood Park brings food to a Muslim woman who for religious reasons can’t eat the meat available through regular Meals on Wheels, but who can eat kosher meat. Some of the recipients need the kosher meals, which are very low in sodium, for dietary reasons.
Referrals to Kosher Meals on Wheels come from doctors and discharge planners at hospitals and nursing homes, as well as also by word of mouth. To qualify, recipients must be homebound and without full-time help; part-time help up to four hours a day is acceptable. Qualifications are checked by JFS social workers.
The meals generally contain a main course of meat or fish, a starch, and a vegetable. In a separate bag, recipients get fruit or a fruit cup, salad, bread, and milk. Since kashrut forbids consuming milk with meat, the milk is to be kept for a later snack or to be used with cereal in the morning. Meals for the Bergen County clients are prepared at the Jewish Home at Rockleigh. Gloria Nadel, site manager of the Paterson Kosher Nutrition Site, reports that the Paterson program prepares its own.
"I do the cooking in a kosher kitchen in the Federation Building in Paterson," she says. For a charge of about $1.’5 each, the program provides hot kosher meals, which are delivered by an employee, not by volunteers.
The program run through the Jewish Family Service of Bergen County does not deliver on weekends, but some clients are provided with frozen meals to use on Saturdays and Sundays. Adelsberg reports that her Fair Lawn/Elmwood Park program delivers some double meals on Thursdays and Fridays for the same purpose.
"They do such a great job, these volunteers," says Joan Campanelli of the Bergen County Department of Human Services, Division of Senior Services, which oversees the program for the county. "They deliver so much."