Ending food insecurity is a major priority at the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, and our High Holiday Food Drive is one of our biggest initiatives in the fight against hunger. Each year, synagogues from across the region participate, collecting tens of thousands of pounds of food for all five of our food pantry sites. And this year, economic downturn and a high unemployment rate mean that need is greater than ever.
"We have seen an increase in new recipients and an increase in the number of visits from all recipients," said Phil Holtje, our Mitzvah Food Program Associate. "One pantry location has seen a dramatic weekly uptick of 40%."
One food pantry location saw a 40% increase in visitors.
Typically, the food collection process is part of the participating synagogues' high holiday programming, with congregants collecting food and bringing it to their synagogues. But this year, almost all services are virtual, and many synagogues are not open to the public. To further complicate matters, our team doesn't have access to the SHARE Food Program warehouse in North Philly, where we usually store and sort donated food.
"COVID-19 really threw a wrench into all this," says Holtje. "Synagogues have had to get creative in how they collect for us."
"Synagogues have had to get creative in how they collect for us."
Some congregations are still collecting items at their synagogues and coordinating pickups with our Mitzvah Food Pantry staff. Others are delivering the goods directly to our pantries, while still others are collecting money from their congregant or purchasing items in bulk and having them delivered to the pantries.
"Between all the ways the shuls and agencies are working ways to collect food for our recipients, we are hopeful the drive will provide a nice variety to our recipients," said Holtje.
The economic impact of the pandemic will stretch past 2021.
Holtje stressed the importance of the food drive, and anti-hunger initiatives in general.
"COVID-19 has put families out of work," he said. "More often than not, they're forced to choose between paying for food and paying other bills. We expect the economic impact of this pandemic to stretch well into 2021, so that means that we have to be there for our community."