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New pantry will be first in Broward to offer kosher ‘shopping experience’

March 20th, 2017 - Brett Diaz

By. Diane C. Lade | Sun Sentinel

Being able to buy fresh, nutritious and affordable food isn’t easy if you’re struggling with old age, poor health and shrinking savings. It’s even harder if you’re trying to keep kosher.

A new food pantry opening soon in Davie will tackle that dilemma in an innovative way.

The Cupboard will be Broward County’s first all-kosher feeding program that’s a “choice-market” pantry, where limited-income people can choose what they receive rather than being handed a pre-selected bag of groceries.

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Yael Kanoff, 12, donates food she collected to JFS Director Stephanie Silverman Houser. (Taimy Alvarez / Sun Sentinel)

Located in a 2,400-square-foot warehouse, the food pantry will allow shoppers to browse the aisles and pick what they want off the shelves. The program was created by Goodman Jewish Family Services of Broward County to serve the thousands of local Jewish residents, the majority of them seniors, who regularly can’t afford the foods that allow them to keep their lifelong traditions.

It is scheduled to open in about two months, according to pantry director Stephanie Silverman Houser.

“We want to give our clients dignity, and we want to give them choice and a shopping experience,” Houser said.

Goodman staff realized something like The Cupboard was needed when Jewish Community Services of South Florida, which is in North Miami, reported that so many Broward County residents were coming to its kosher pantry that it could not serve them all, Houser said.

A 2016 study by the Jewish Federation of Broward County found 2,300 households, with a total of 4,400 people, had incomes below poverty level. More than half of the individuals were age 65 or older, many of them Holocaust survivors. About 1,800 of all households surveyed said they “sometimes” or “often” did not have enough to eat.

“If a Holocaust survivor requires kosher food in order to feel at peace, we should be providing it,” Houser said. “It’s crazy to think that survivors are experiencing hunger at this stage in their lives.”

There are two long-standing Broward kosher pantries “doing a great job,” Houser said. They are WECARE at the Soref Jewish Community Center in Plantation and We Are One in Hollywood. They are small programs, however, and don’t offer clients a shopping option, Houser said.

The new pantry will collaborate with them both, she said.

When you eat kosher, food can be more expensive and harder to find. The Cupboard plans to offer fresh produce along with kosher nonperishable products. A group of donors who call themselves the Chicken Coup will provide frozen kosher chickens, Houser said.

Delivery will be available for frail seniors and the disabled. And there will be counselors available through the pantry that can connect those in need with other services, or help them sign up for food stamps, Houser said.

Barbara Bailin, Goodman’s financial assistance director, said people often won’t seek help getting food — or even admit they’re facing hunger — because they are ashamed. “They often call us for help but don’t at first talk about needing food,” Bailin said. “When we bring it up, sometimes they’ll start crying.”

The Cupboard will be open by appointment-only, and the idea is for shoppers to enter one at a time, so they don’t need to fear bumping into their neighbors.

Such “choice pantries” are a growing trend in the hunger relief community. Feeding South Florida, which distributes about 45 million pounds of food in four counties annually, has been encouraging the 400 nonprofit programs it supplies to move to the choice model, said Sari Vatske, vice president of community relations. About 75 of those programs have done so, Vatske said, most of them small operations.

“The idea is to … mimic the experience you and I would have in a grocery store. We don’t want to go into Publix and have someone tell us, ‘You have to buy this or that,’ ” Vatske said. While choice pantries often require more volunteers, they also tend to have less wasted food, she said.

Cultural sensitivity, such as offering kosher food, also is important when it comes to hunger relief, Vatske said. Feeding South Florida is installing a new warehouse inventory system that will allow partner food pantries to more easily request specialty products like kosher, gluten-free and low-sodium items.

In Palm Beach County, the nonprofit Ruth and Norman Rales Jewish Family Services has been running its kosher Jacobson Family Food Pantry in Delray Beach for three years. Every other week, the pantry’s 125 low-income clients can choose 11 items from the shelves as well as receive bread, fresh produce and a frozen kosher chicken.

Another 445 people, mostly frail elders, can order their groceries from the pantry by phone and have them delivered, said Beth Levine, Ruth Rales’ senior vice president and chief operating officer.

Here, as at The Cupboard, pantry shopping is by appointment and booked for one person at a time.

Levine said she knew of no other kosher choice pantries in the county. Allowing people to select their food “has been a big change, as they are getting what they want and are eating better,” Levine said.

To donate or volunteer for The Cupboard, call 954-370-2140 or go to jfsbroward.org/food-pantry. Appointments can be made after the pantry opens later this spring.

Lade, Diane. “New pantry will be first in Broward to offer kosher ‘shopping experience'” Sun Sentinel
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