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Jewish Journal

This year, more Angelenos than ever get Passover aid from local agencies

by Ryan Torok

April 11, 2012 | 12:45 pm

Boxes filled with produce for Passover line the sidewalk outside Tomchei Shabbos on April 2.

Boxes filled with produce for Passover line the sidewalk outside Tomchei Shabbos on April 2.

This year, more than 1,000 Los Angeles families in need received food from organizations that provide assistance specifically for Passover.

During the weeks leading up to the first seder, on April 6, visitors to distribution sites set up by agencies, synagogues and organizations took home essentials for the holiday — wine, grape juice, matzah, gefilte fish, horseradish, eggs and more — so that they could have seders and kosher food for the eight days of the holiday.

Low-income families received assistance from Tomchei Shabbos, Global Kindness, Valley Beth Shalom, JFS/SOVA, the Israeli Leadership Council, the Iranian American Jewish Federation (IAJF) and elsewhere. Social workers from Jewish Family Service, a nonsectarian social service agency, referred many individuals and families in need to food-giving agencies. Tomchei Shabbos, which provides donations of kosher food to Los Angeles Orthodox families weekly, served additional families for Passover.

The majority of recipients this year were people who’ve lost their jobs in the recent recession, including, said Rabbi Yona Landau, executive director of Tomchei Shabbos,  “people who got sick and couldn’t work, people who were abandoned, women who were abandoned by their husbands and they have to care of the family themselves.

“There’s a lot of different cases,” Landau said. “If they didn’t get our food, they wouldn’t have any food.”

Others receiving food assistance for Passover included immigrant families of Persian, Israeli and Russian descent; seniors with disabilities; and some divorcees, all facing major financial challenges, according to Debbie Alden, a board member of Valley Beth Shalom’s Sisterhood and Nouriel Cohen, CFO of Global Kindness. Many of the recipients were formerly volunteers at these agencies and organizations — people who used to be middle-class — but are now reliant on charity.

“We had people who were donating to us a little bit, and now they are asking, which is really sad,” said Shahla Javdan, president of the IAJF.

Because of privacy concerns, no recipient families gave their names for interviews.

On the night of April 2, an elderly woman living in West Hollywood receiving a delivery from two volunteers in their 20s, told of her problems with sciatica. “Not well,” she replied to a volunteer who asked how she was doing as they brought the food into her home.

Tomchei Shabbos volunteers delivered some of the food for Passover to recipients’ homes. Some requested that the food be left at their doorsteps.

Other recipients parked at the curb at Pico Boulevard and Weatherly Drive, the site of the organization’s storefront, waited to receive the boxes filled with produce, which they loaded into the backseats of their minivans and the trunks of their sedans with the help of eager volunteers.

Tomchei boxes were marked with only families’ initials so as not to give away their identities. Valley Beth Shalom’s distributors employed a similar method for their food giveaway.

In the days leading up to Passover, people strapped for cash shopped at Pico-Robertson grocery stores Elat Market and Glatt Mart using food coupons from the IAJF. The stores cooperated with the IAJF, selling $25 and $50 coupons at a 25 percent discount to the IAJF, which then distributed the coupons to community members.

SOVA, a program of Jewish Family Service, differentiated Passover packages for Ashkenazi and Sephardic families. Ashkenazi families received gefilte fish and horseradish, while Sephardic families received rice and dates in addition to matzah ball soup mix, macaroons, eggs, walnuts and matzah.

“They will be able to do a nice seder with what they receive,” Fred Summers, director of operations at JFS/SOVA, said. “Some of the things will last longer than one night, [but] it will probably not be an eight-day supply.

The numbers of those in need might surprise some. JFS/SOVA provided for approximately 700 individuals and families for Passover, according to Summers. Tomchei Shabbos served around 600 families, estimated Landau. VBS distributed 124 boxes filled with Passover items, Global Kindness helped nearly 350 families, the Israeli Leadership Council provided assistance for more than 100 families, and the IAJF distributed between $30,000 and $50,000 in food coupons, Javdan said.

More families requested Passover food this year than in previous years, Javdan, Landau and Cohen all said, and the agencies couldn’t meet all the demand. Despite news reports that the economy is improving and new jobs are being created each month, Cohen said more people are in need this year than ever before. “Not only for Passover, but for other holidays also.”

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