Jewish Journal

Improving on a HHD Mitzvah

by Susan Esther Barnes

August 21, 2013 | 1:00 am

Photo by Susan Esther Barnes

The High Holy Days are rapidly approaching, and with it the annual appeal by Mazon to take whatever money we would have spent on Yom Kippur for food if we were not fasting, and donate it to help feed people who are hungry many other days of the year.

That’s a great start, but many synagogues, including the one I attend, also collect food for their local food bank during the High Holy Days. Some people go through their pantry, looking for food items that are reaching their expiration date or which have been sitting around for a while. Others go to the store to buy new items just for the purpose of donation.

The timing is particularly good for the local food banks, which usually get the bulk of their donations in the weeks surrounding Thanksgiving and Christmas. By the time the High Holy Days roll around, many of them are getting low on key items. The donations from these synagogue food drives are often what allow them to stretch their resources until the Thanksgiving donations start rolling in.

Of course, it feels good to be helping out by donating food to others who need it more than we do. But there’s an even better way to participate in this mitzvah which will make this annual tradition even more of a win-win situation for everyone involved.

As Californians, we know there will be another big earthquake. We don’t know when it’s coming, but we know it is coming. There are other disasters, natural and otherwise, that may also impact us, including floods, wildfires, or – God forbid – terrorist acts. Any one of these calamities, if large enough, could overwhelm the infrastructure where we live, leaving us to fend for ourselves for several days.

As a result, we all know that we should have an emergency supply of food and water at home. Although we all know this is a good idea, many of us never get around to gathering such an emergency supply. And even those of us who, one way or the other, become motivated enough to follow through and purchase emergency food supplies may forget about them once they’re purchased, allowing the food items to age and then expire, rendering them useless.

Here is how we can combine the High Holy Day food drive with the old, forgotten emergency food supply issue, to come up with a win-win situation.

First, if you haven’t done so yet (or if your emergency food supply has expired or expiring items in it), buy new food to make sure you and your family has enough non-perishable items to last you for three to five days. Keep in mind that you’ll want a variety of food. You’re not going to want to eat the same old chili for three meals a day for a week. Remember, this stuff is usually good for at least two to three years.

Then, every year when the High Holy Days food drive comes up, go through your emergency supplies and replace everything that is going to expire in the coming year. Donate the replaced food to the High Holy Day food drive. Of course, please don’t hesitate to supplement your donations with additional purchases, if you can afford to do so.

In this way, not only do the food banks get substantial donations during this critical period, but you also are assured that your emergency food supply is regularly refreshed and up-to-date. I also like the idea that the donations we make will be food we like to eat ourselves, rather than whatever off-brand happens to be on sale in September or October. Just because these folks may be down on their luck doesn’t mean they don’t deserve the good stuff.

Remember, the High Holy Days are just around the corner, so don’t wait. Update those earthquake supplies now, and at the same time, help to feed those less fortunate than you. Start the new year with a mitzvah.

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Susan Esther Barnes is a religious Reform Jew who can regularly be seen greeting people at her synagogue before services. She is a founding member of her synagogue’s chevra...

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