When a group of women gather at their retirement home in Northeast Philadelphia each month to prepare kosher soup for homebound Jewish seniors, Barbara Clippinger serves as head chef. Never mind that she isn’t Jewish — she ensures that her fellow volunteers follow the rules of kashrut.
On a recent Friday, Clippinger and 10 others, residents of Enhanced Living-Pennypack Park who are known collectively as the “Ladies of the Manor,” sit around a table chopping carrots, potatoes and parsley. Once cooked, the chicken vegetable soup is packed into small plastic containers and donated to the Klein JCC’s Cook for a Friend program, which delivers the food.
And that’s not all they do. They also sell hoagies, chocolate-covered pretzels and other goodies to raise money for disaster relief efforts in places like Haiti and Joplin, Mo., and, locally, for former residents who can no longer afford to live at the retirement community.
Staff members say Clippinger, a 74-year-old retired nurse, spearheads most of the efforts on her own. Her spunkiness, frequent wisecracks and talk of multiple boyfriends belie the reality that she is in a wheelchair and needs oxygen to help her breathe.
She said she keeps the door to her residence open 24/7 for staff members who want a hoagie as a midnight snack. They just leave money on the table. “And if they’re having a bad night, they go to my liquor closet,” she quips, quickly pointing out she’s just joking.
The Cook for a Friend program helps seniors on fixed incomes who might otherwise not eat a proper meal — or worse, skip a meal entirely. According to the National Foundation to End Senior Hunger, nearly 15 percent of all seniors experienced food insecurity in 2010.
Rhoda Levy, one of the only Jewish women in the group, says she thinks about her father when preparing the soup; he benefited from home-delivered meals before his death. Her mother had always been the cook, and when she died, her father was left living alone and had difficulty adjusting to his new circumstances.
The similar but separate Meals on Wheels program he depended on was important not only for the food but also for her father “to see another person,” said Levy, a 79-year-old retired English teacher who lives at Pennypack with her husband.
In between chopping vegetables, Clippinger offered advice to nursing students who were assisting the residents and looked around the table ensuring that everything was in order. She acts as a self-described “pain in the neck” when the women gather monthly to make soup.
“I have friends who are kosher, so I know the restrictions. It was just a matter of getting the right equipment in here and minding everyone,” said Clippinger.
At an event last year at their facility, cooks mistakenly used the women’s equipment for a non-kosher meal. But that didn’t stop them; they just replaced all the equipment.