The coronavirus pandemic has turned our lives and our world upside down. For many individuals and families, the results of prolonged sheltering in place and their impact on business and organizations, even in supposedly stable industries, has been devastating.
In the greater Washington area, 1.4 million people filed jobless claims in the first ten weeks following the shutdown of non-essential businesses. Whether furloughed or laid off, many people are now facing financial and food insecurity, unable to pay rent and buy basic food staples that seemed trivial just six months ago. And with schools closed, children who relied on school lunches or meals at extracurricular activities are going hungry.
Indeed, Jewish food pantries in the DC area have reported an increase of $2 million in food assistance costs.
As the effects of the pandemic struck the DC area, The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington mobilized quickly, launching the Greater Washington’s Jewish Community Coronavirus Response Fund, which has raised $4.4 million from 460 donors and already approved nearly $2 million in grants and loans to address immediate needs.
One of the organizations to receive a grant was Yad Yehuda, a volunteer organization that runs several initiatives to alleviate financial and food insecurity locally. These include the Capital Kosher Pantry, the region’s only kosher pantry, where qualifying families can “shop” for nutritious food options, and Tomchei Shabbos, which offers gift cards to kosher grocery stores so that families in need can purchase the food they want (rather than receiving pre-made boxes with ingredients that may go to waste) in a dignified way.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, Yad Yehuda has seen demand increase tremendously. In addition to trying to serve more families through existing programs, this summer Yad Yehuda was selected to run a kosher USDA Summer Food Service Program in the Washington area. Every day, they prepare nutritious kosher breakfast and lunch for about 1,080 local children ages 18 and under who are currently experiencing food insecurity. Parents pick up the meals in a contactless drive-through. As of July 31, the program, which continues through the end of August, had served 126,000 meals.
The Edlavitch DCJCC, a Federation partner, has also ramped up efforts to tackle food insecurity. Its Morris Cafritz Center for Social Responsibility has had to adapt its volunteer programs to a socially distanced age. This has included moving social justice learning online and quickly identifying and creating opportunities to address community needs from afar. As partner social service agencies like SOME and Martha’s Table have pivoted to offer takeout meals for clients, EDCJCC volunteers have stepped up to make sandwiches and snack bags that these agencies can have on hand for clients who stop by off hours when meals aren’t available. The EDCJCC has also continued its senior lunch program (now delivered, rather than onsite) in partnership with the DC Office on Aging.
Finally, for those who feel comfortable, the EDCJCC continues to organize in-person volunteer opportunities (following all social distancing and safety precautions), most of which seek to address hunger in the DMV.