What Stern, in her mid-80's, might not tell you up front is that she has spent many years living alone on a fixed income, and is a recipient of Jewish Family Service's (JFS) Home Delivered Meals, a quarter-century-old program that delivers seven balanced entrees a week to homebound seniors. Last week, with the help of Israel Humanitarian Foundation (IHF), JFS greatly modernized its program by purchasing a supply of microwaves that will be given to more than 300 senior citizens in the program.
"Microwaves are safer than conventional ovens, which the elderly might neglect to turn off," said Joan Mithers, director of community programs and staff training at JFS, a beneficiary agency of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.
Eligible candidates for the Microwave Meals Program are 60 years of age or older, and they suffer from illness, disability or frailty that keeps them homebound and unable to drive. Many of them are also Holocaust survivors, and are socially isolated without any direct family support. Those on the program will now receive a microwave and seven meals for each day of the week.
IHF donated $65,000 to expand JFS's long-running Home Delivered Meals Program. In addition to the microwaves, a significant improvement to the program is a machine called the AmeriPak 245 filled-tray sealer, a conveyor belt designed to add efficiency to meal packaging.
Overseeing the entire process is Carrie Hornby, director of food and nutrition services, who runs the Hirsh Family Kosher Kitchen.
"This machine can do over 600 meals an hour," said Hornby, who plans the menu cycle, which has the approval of the Department of Aging for both the city and county, as well as the city of West Hollywood's counterpart.
The meals, which are blast frozen for preservation, are delivered by JFS twice a week. Choices vary from week to week - ranging from roast chicken to turkey cacciatore to the occasional beef dish, and featuring desserts from fruit to pumpkin or chocolate marble cake - but always strike the recommended balance of protein, vitamin A and vitamin C. Hornby said that the kitchen is required to provide the seniors with about one-third of recommended daily nutritional allowances, but in reality, they have been fulfilling almost half."Our intent is that they remain independent in their home as long as possible," said Hornby, who said that the Hirsh Family Kosher Kitchen routinely serves 105 people a day.
At the Microwave Meal Program's launch last week, even JFS office staff were getting into the spirit of the program, as Valerie Chavez, assistant executive to Director Paul Castro, volunteered some time to help prepare food at the Hirsh Family Kosher Kitchen.
Frederick Simmons, who has served on the IHF Board for 25 years and expressed his enthusiasm for the new project, was also on hand for the microwave project's kickoff.
"I'm a lawyer. It is very rewarding to think we're making something happen that otherwise wouldn't. It's not only important to do good, but to be seen doing good you're inspiring people to become involved," said Simmons.
Established in 1960, IHF, whose slogan is "The Charity of Choice," prides itself on being a direct conduit between donors and a specific area of philanthropy. IHF supports more than 120 projects related to Israeli life, and provides services for humanitarian causes, educational programs, medical care and research, youth-in-need and the elderly.
IHF first became involved with the JFS project about a year ago. "We have various avenues from which we get our funds. One donor who passed away wanted to help the elderly Jews of the Pico-Fairfax area. We couldn't have thought of a better cause," said Geoffrey Gee, national campaign director and executive director of IHF's Western Region.
Gee, a past president of University Synagogue and a past board member of The Jewish Federation, explained that IHF's goals are "project related, not program related," which means that now that they have helped subsidize improvements to the JFS program, IHF will move onto other projects, which includes one with Cedars-Sinai Medical Center that will assist the Jewish elderly.
Back in West Hollywood on this sunny weekday morning, JFS staff install Ann Stern's new cooking appliance. Stern seems a little perplexed by the demonstration of this new technology, but the facilitators of this project will make sure that she is well-schooled in the art of preparing food via electromagnetic waves. Stern is asked how she feels about the extra layer of convenience the microwave should add to her life, and the retired Saks Fifth Avenue employee's response is as candid and unpretentious as the paintings on her wall: "I'm happy I've got it, but I can't tell you yet till I use it."