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Fighting Hunger in Central Mass.

By Stacey Dresner

A year and a half after Covid-19 struck, many Americans are still facing food insecurity due to lost jobs and wages.

According to the hunger-relief organization Feeding America, the state of Massachusetts has seen food insecurity jump from one in 12 people before COVID-19 to a projected one in 10 in 2021, a 20% increase. 

Boxes of kosher food waiting to be distributed to families in Central Mass.

Now a year and half after the start of Covid-19 and the resulting job losses and food insecurity it continues to cause, Jewish organizations are still working to provide food to those in need.

Last summer Central Mass Chabad distributed fruits and vegetables to families in the Central Mass. area in collaboration with Boston Area Gleaners of Waltham as part of the USDA school lunch program for families with children ages 0-18.

This year, the USDA changed its waiver, requiring participating programs to include meat and dairy in boxes of food being distributed to families as part of the school lunch program.

“The USDA said you have to include cheese and meat. In New York, Chicago and LA it is a little easier to get access to all of that stuff,” said Rabbi Leivik Fogelman of Chabad Central Mass. “We have been working since our program ended [last fall] on a way to get approval to serve kosher food – looking for different avenues to get approval.”

Rabbi Leivik Fogelman helping to unload kosher food boxes at Central Mass. Chabad.

Working with Tiferith Raphael of Brighton and its Kosher Food Bank — which became a YMCA site for the USDA school lunch program – Central Mass Chabad is now approved as a satellite site for the lunch program.

They receive food from Bertran, a kosher food manufacturer and distributor in New Jersey.

“They are able to get really good products. It is real quality food and practical food. It’s pizza, bread and milk cheese and hot dogs. Bertran packs it for us and delivers it to us,” Rabbi Leivik said. 

The boxes contain enough food for seven days worth of meals – breakfast, lunch and dinner – per child. The program is available to families with children ages 0-18 who do not already receive meals from their schools or from other sites. There is no financial eligibility requirement.

Since beginning the expanded program on July 25, Central Mass Chabad has given out 15,000 meals.

Pick up is at Chabad, 22 Newton Ave. in Worcester every Sunday from 11:45 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. 

Rabbi Leivik said they will continue the distribution of the food boxes for as long as they can.

“We literally have lines of people coming and there are additional needs,” h e said. “I had a lady come and donate diapers, which are available to give out to people. That was really helpful. It’s really a special thing to be a part of. I’m happy we can be a part of this and we can help.”

Filling Fridges 

Last February ClarkU Hillel became involved in Worcester Community Kitchens, a project founded by Northborough teacher Maria Ravelli to provide easily accessed food for people in the community in public refrigerators, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Packing the Woo Fridge on Portland Street in Worcester.

Six months later, ClarkU Hillel – which includes members from nearby Becker College – are still dedicated to keeping the community fridge near Clark, outside of Fantastic Pizzaria on Main Street, filled with food – even during the summer, said Jeff Narod, director of ClarkU Hillel. “Tikuun Olam and fighting food insecurity among other things are so important to our Hillel Students,” Narod said. 

“Jeff and I went on at least once a week to one of the fridges in the community. “We sometimes had other students join us throughout the summer as well,” said Monica Sager, former Hillel president and now a grad student and Hillel’s community and media intern. “We would go to Price Rite, pick out food, and shop around, using the donated money from people in our community as well as businesses and others that want to help end food insecurity. There are four fridges in the Worcester community now. We went to different ones each time.”

Besides the Main Street and Portland Street fridges, Worcester Community Fridges – which has been shortened to Woo Fridge – has added a refrigerator at 300 Southbridge Road. Another is planned at Worcester Academy; and in mid-September, a fridge donated by the Lavine family, owners of Percy’s Appliances, is set to be installed.

Sager has become somewhat of a warrior in the fight against hunger.

Clark Hillel Director Jeff Narod and Hillel members buying groceries for the Woo Fridges in July.

“Roughly 10 percent of people in Worcester — and 20 percent of kids — are classified as food insecure, according to the latest data from the USDA,” Sager explained. “And the pandemic further exacerbates the issue.”

Sager created a food aid plan at Clark University to provide five meals a week to college students who cannot afford the meal plans, and is a mentor and advisor for Challah for Hunger, a national organizations on different campuses that bakes challan and sells it to raise money to combat food insecurity within local communities. She is also the host and editor of The Campus Hunger Project.

She and the other members of Hillel also work with Rachel’s Table, the Jewish Federation’s food rescue program. 

And Hillel has become a major supporter of Woo Fridge.

“I really love the community fridges,” Sager said. “I plan to continue to go to them weekly with Jeff throughout the year. We’re also excited for more students to join us when the school year starts back up.”

“The Jewish Federation of Central Mass. supports Clark Hillel’s Fridge project by inviting community members to donate so we can shop and provide food each week,” said Narod, “We certainly thank all those who give and are glad we can share the mitzvah of  bringing food to those in need.”

For more information about Woo Fridge, go to woofridge.org. More information about Central Mass Chabad’s weekly drive-thru food distribution, call (508) 752-0904 or visit www.centralmasschabad.org.

Main Photo: Director Jeff Narod shopping last week with clark students for food that will help fill Worcester’s Community Fridges.

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