Jewish Relief Agency’s (JRA) warehouse once bustled with hundreds of volunteers for its monthly food packing and distribution. Now, that number has dwindled to a maximum of 25 people per shift as a safety precaution due to COVID-19.
In the midst of an entire operational restructuring, committed volunteers, like 27-year-old Tara Cherwony, have stepped up to ensure that low-income clients still receive their kosher food packages.
“With funding from the Jewish Federation [of Greater Philadelphia], I have seen the direct impact being made to fight food insecurity,” said Cherwony, a member of JRA’s board of directors and the Jewish Federation’s board of trustees. “When walking down the street, you never know who may be experiencing hunger.”
Twenty-eight percent of Philadelphians have problems paying for food, according to a 2020 poll by The Pew Charitable Trusts. JRA received more than $200,000 in emergency funds over the past year from the Jewish Federation to expand its delivery days, hire additional employees to offset the loss in volunteers, afford the rising costs in food and meet the growing rate of clients.
A consistent volunteer prior to the pandemic, Cherwony increased her efforts during a time when JRA needed it most. Fueled by a passion to alleviate suffering, the recruitment coordinator of Drexel University’s College of Nursing and Health Professionals travels from her University City apartment to the near-empty warehouse in the Northeast multiple times a month to help sort, pack and deliver. In addition, Cherwony chairs JRA’s Leadership Academy, which prepares young adults for leadership roles within the organization and to support its mission of combating hunger.
“Tara’s enthusiasm for public service, passion for social change and dedication to the Jewish community — and specifically JRA’s mission-driven work — make her an exceptional volunteer and board member,” said Jodi Roth-Saks, JRA’s executive director. “Oftentimes, small nonprofits like JRA lean on dedicated volunteers, like Tara, to deliver their vital programs and services to the community.”
JRA is not the only organization to “lean” on Cherwony.
Among her many leadership roles, Cherwony serves on the Drexel University Hillel board of directors, co-chairs a JEVS Human Services’ internship alumni group, and teaches at Beth Tikvah-B’Nai Jeshurun and Congregation Kol Ami. She is also a rising leader at the Jewish Federation, an organization that has “been present [her] whole life,” providing funding for “many experiences growing up,” such as BBYO, the Satell Teen Fellowship for Leadership and Social Activism, and JEVS Franklin C. Ash Summer Internship Program.
Cherwony is also the campaign co-chair of NextGen, the Jewish Federation’s young leadership group.
“Tara has been one of the Jewish Federation’s most reliable and enthusiastic leaders over the past few years. She is always eager to take the lead on new projects and gives her all to everything she takes on,” NextGen Director Max Moline said. “The breadth of her leadership throughout the Philadelphia Jewish community is truly impressive and inspirational, and we’re lucky to have her here.”
One of Cherwony’s most memorable projects was during NextGen’s Leadership Development Program. For her capstone, she organized a group to make 300 kosher meals for homebound older adults through KleinLife’s Cook for a Friend program.
“When my grandfather passed away in 2018, my grandmother was able to get some pre-made meals from this program while she settled back into her ‘new normal,’” Cherwony said. “It was so nice bringing people together to do a mitzvah, especially knowing the direct impact it can make.”
The Jewish Federation granted KleinLife about $220,000 in emergency funds throughout the pandemic, mainly to meet its escalating demand of aging clients who need food assistance. Due to the pandemic, the Jewish Federation’s agency partners reported a 185% increase in people relying on subsidized, home-delivered food and a 27% increase in the cost to provide food packages.
Determined to make an enduring impact on the Jewish community, Cherwony gives the gift of her time and her dollars. Cherwony is a founding member of the Levin Society, a group created during the global crisis by young trailblazers who make an annual contribution of $2,500 or more to the Jewish Federation.
“It’s a way for me to pay it forward,” Cherwony said. “Increasing my annual contribution and becoming a founding member of the Levin Society was something I decided to do to further show my commitment to the Jewish Federation and hopefully encourage other young professionals to prioritize their philanthropic giving to the organization.”