While Jewish families fasted on Yom Kippur, one nonprofit group asked them to go a step further this year, and remember those who experience hunger on a regular basis.
On the holiday, Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger encouraged families to donate money that would have been spent on meals during their roughly 24-hour period of fasting.
The organization has three major appeals throughout the year: one at Yom Kippur, one at Chanukah and one at Passover.
Mazon was founded in 1985 by a small group of people, including Theodore Mann, an attorney and longtime leader in the Philadelphia area. This national hunger-relief group has grounded itself in the idea that celebratory events can be used to net funding for food.
"What we really like is when people regularly make donations to Mazon when they're celebrating Bar or Bat Mitzvahs, weddings, anniversaries, other life-cycle events," described Eve Klothen, a Swarthmore attorney and former chair of the board of directors of national Mazon.
The organization encourages families to donate 3 percent of the cost of their celebrations to helping end hunger. Most Jewish events involve the gathering together of family members and the sharing of food. "And when we do that, I think it's really appropriate that we remember those who don't have enough food to eat," she said.
A Two-Pronged Approach
Mazon takes a two-pronged approach: It funds groups that work to feed the hungry, as well as advocacy work by organizations that promote better policy solutions to end the causes of hunger. In the spring of 2006, 34 organizations in Pennsylvania received 183 grants last year from Mazon, totaling almost $1.7 million in aid.
Philadelphia-based nonprofit groups, including Community Legal Services, the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger and Philabundance, were just a few of the numerous local organizations to receive support from Mazon.
One of the major policy programs that Mazon funds is the Food Stamp Enrollment Campaign through the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger. "There are huge numbers of people in the United States who are eligible for food stamps but don't receive them because they don't know about the program, or they don't think they're eligible," said Klothen.
With the help of Mazon's funding, the coalition released a June 6 report on the food-stamp work that it conducted with the University of Pennsylvania's Fox Leadership Program. The report presented various barriers to participation in the federally funded food-stamp program; Gov. Ed Rendell's office has since announced two initiatives to reduce those barriers.
"So, over the last four years, we've screened 12,000 clients for food stamps," said Karen Wilson, director of the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger. "We eventually find out whether they got food stamps or not, and if not, why they were denied."
"I think Mazon really funds our work not so much because we're connecting people to food stamps, but because we're using our service to inform our advocacy," she continued.
By concurrently working to assist organizations that immediately provide relief and at the same time advocating changes in policy, Mazon tries to end veritable hunger on the table, in addition to its roots and causes.
"We believe with the right policy, we can end hunger in this country," stated Klothen.
Mazon has close to 1,000 synagogue partners, which help to educate youth early about hunger. "We reach out to all members of the Jewish community to participate," said Klothen.
With aid to victims of Hurricane Katrina and, more recently, to Israelis following the recent war in Lebanon, the group has involved itself in both national and international relief efforts.
"And we will continue to provide," noted Klothen. "We think that it's a very important role that we can and do play."
Jewish Relief Agency:
Along 185 delivery routes, the Jewish Relief Agency distributes non-perishable, kosher food to about 2,000 low-income Jewish families one Sunday a month. Between 500 and 600 volunteers deliver the packages, with special items given out for holidays. Often, volunteers get to know the families they assist. "People who normally wouldn't have anything to do with each other are coming together," said agency director Rachel Dunaief.
Mitzvah Food Pantry:
The Mitzvah Food Pantry distributes nonperishable food to some 1,900 households through deliveries and five pantry sites. Funded by grants from Mazon and the State Food Purchase Program, the organization also refers clients to the food-stamp hotline. In this way, callers can learn whether or not they are eligible for food stamps, according to Jessica Charmont, senior mitzvah-project planner. And through the Benefits Bank program, clients can determine what government benefits they may be able to obtain.