Packed With Love: Mitzvah Food Program Distributes Passover Meals

Volunteers deliver Passover packages to Mitzvah Food Program clients. Courtesy of Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia

This Passover will be different for Helene, age 86. Where her husband of 69 years, Samuel, would traditionally drive them to their granddaughter’s for the holiday, this year, she sits at home worried about her husband who is recovering in rehab after a recent fall.

But she’s hopeful that he’ll return home in time, and she is comforted knowing that a seder will be ready for them with food from the Mitzvah Food Program.
For seven years, Helene has been a client of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia’s Mitzvah Food Program, which distributed more than 1 million pounds of food to 6,530 clients throughout the Greater Philadelphia region during the last fiscal year. She first learned of the program while enjoying a meal with a friend at a KleinLife Senior Lunch Program.
“It was a great way to meet people, and other Holocaust survivors,” said Helene, who escaped Germany to the Philadelphia area in 1949. Helene and her husband are two of 557 local survivors to receive food assistance through a Jewish Federation-funded program like KleinLife, Mitzvah Food Program, Jewish Relief Agency and KAVOD SHEF.
As the years go by, Helene has found it physically harder to shop for groceries and cook at home. Alleviating this hardship, Helene has used the Mitzvah Food Program’s online grocery delivery services option. Her daughter places the order online each month, and a volunteer delivers the packages from Mitzvah Food Program to Helene’s house.
“It’s very difficult for me to go shopping, so having the food delivered makes a big difference,” shared Helene, who also receives food assistance from KleinLife and other programs. “The people at the pantry are wonderful, I have plenty of kosher options, and the food is really good. I’m so glad that they’re helping us.”
Helene and her husband aren’t the only families relying on food pantries for healthy food options at home. Over the course of the last six months, the Mitzvah Food Program has experienced a slow but steady increase in the number of clients across their four pantries.
With food prices rising and pandemic benefits ending, the program has provided a much-needed source of stability for many individuals and families struggling to make ends meet. While the cost of groceries has risen, this hike has been particularly noticeable for meat and other proteins.
“As Passover approaches, kosher beef prices have increased as much as $2 a pound,” said Brian Gralnick, director of the Jewish Federation’s Local Grants and Partnerships, including the Mitzvah Food Program’s four pantries. “Over the past month in particular, we are seeing a real increase in new clients and old clients returning. I’m thankful to our donors and partner organizations for helping us provide kosher food for the holidays to those who may have otherwise gone without.”
In the Greater Philadelphia region, 16% of Jewish households keep kosher at home, and another 12% are kosher when observing Passover.
Despite food banks housing an overabundance of pork products and other non-kosher foods, greatly limiting food options to be sourced to the Mitzvah Food Program, the pantries are able to maintain a supply of kosher products by way of donations from community members, organizations, synagogues and agencies. Partners like Jeff and Sandy Brown of ShopRite and the Novick Brothers have been essential partners in providing food specific to major holidays.
In preparation for Passover, more than 100 volunteers packed and distributed holiday meals during the last three weeks. Hundreds of clients received packages of kosher beef, matzah, grape juice, gefilte fish, honey, matzah ball soup mix, apples and walnuts.
Clients had a pickup or home delivery option to receive their holiday packages. Delivery is especially important given the demographics of the clients and the substantial weight of the Passover meal kits. With 42% of clients in the age range of 60 and up, many recipients, like Helene, don’t have access to transportation or can’t easily lift and carry grocery packages. Home delivery is also critical for clients like Fern, who helps care for her adult child living with a chronic health problem.
“This food package is so much more than just a meal,” said Fern, a longtime client of the Mitzvah Food Program. “Especially on the holidays, we should all have something special to eat.”
Last year, Fern’s Passover package included enough kosher for Passover meat and food to host her own small seder. Many of her invited guests included those who would otherwise be alone due to the pandemic.
“If you have a little, you have to share it and help others,” commented Fern. “Because of the Mitzvah Food Program, we all had a truly blessed Pesach.”


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