Food brings people together, accompanies celebrations and connects cultures around the world. It has always been, and will continue to be, associated with memories and experiences.
But what if your connection to food was a negative one? What if it reminded you not of happy and joyful memories, but of sadness, persecution and death?
For many Holocaust survivors, their relationship with food has been greatly influenced by their Holocaust experiences, which included food shortages, extreme hunger and widespread starvation. According to the Journal of Nutrition, Education and Behavior, one major theme that has emerged in examining survivors’ attitudes toward food in relation to their Holocaust experiences was “experiencing anxiety when food is not readily available.”
In order to ensure that no survivor ever experiences food insecurity, which can cause re-traumatization through painful “retriggered” reminders of their sorrow-filled past, the Jewish Social Service Agency (JSSA) has partnered with Nourish Now food bank to provide fresh, healthy food to survivors in need of extra food assistance.
Nourish Now is a 501c3 nonprofit organization that provides food to those in need by collecting donations of surplus fresh food from restaurants, caterers and other food donors. The food collected is then distributed to those in need. Nourish Now’s Family Distribution Program provides approximately 500 families a five-day supply of food each month.
David Joffe, assistant director at Nourish Now, says, “We’re very happy to be able to serve different types of people, and helping Holocaust survivors through this program gives us an opportunity to do that by serving new people we hadn’t served before. We always like finding ways to help all who might not otherwise have an opportunity.”
JSSA’s Nourish Now Volunteer Program was launched in December 2015. As of July 2016 the program has ten active volunteers delivering food to 13 Holocaust survivors and six of their spouses.
With 85 percent of JSSA’s Holocaust survivor clients living at, or below, the federal poverty level, many struggle to cover all of their expenses. JSSA’s Nourish Now Volunteer Program has helped these survivors avoid having to choose between buying enough groceries and paying for a medical prescription or another necessity by providing them with extra food once per month.
JSSA volunteer Nancy Bernstein, who has been delivering food to two Holocaust survivor clients since January, says, “Nourish Now is the perfect win-win. Clients are provided with healthy, delicious food to supplement their diets, and fresh, local food does not go to waste.”
She adds, “It is particularly gratifying to be part of this program by delivering fresh food to two JSSA clients that are elderly Holocaust survivors. They are so appreciative of this service, and they both light up every time they receive food. I think they are equally appreciative of the kindness that goes into this program.”
Another survivor couple, Mr. and Mrs. K, has also received food through the Nourish Now program since January. Before joining the program, they were unable to buy all the produce they needed, especially relatively expensive fruits and vegetables. They live on a very limited Social Security/Supplemental Security Income (SSI) budget, and Mr. K is disabled, so Mrs. K. has the responsibility of both caring for him and providing and preparing the meals.
She shares, “Receiving extra food once per month saves us not only a lot of money, but the time that it would take me to buy and prepare food. It takes some of the burden off of cooking for a week. I’m able to devote more time and money to caring for my husband.”
The partnership between JSSA and Nourish Now strives to minimize uncomfortable food-related situations for Holocaust survivors, individuals who should never have to experience food deprivation again.
Holocaust survivors have experienced enormous suffering in their lives. Nothing will remove the trauma of their experiences from their memories, but providing them with plentiful, fresh food at no cost—through JSSA’s Nourish Now Volunteer Program and its wonderful, caring volunteers—is one meaningful and important way that we can help them to live secure and dignified lives in their final years.
We need more great volunteers to help continue this important work for local survivors! To volunteer for JSSA, please contact Elana Premack Sandler at [email protected]. To volunteer for Nourish Now, please send an email to in[email protected] or call 301-330-0222.
The Jewish Social Service Agency’s (JSSA) Holocaust Survivor Program provides care and safety net services to frail, poor and ill Holocaust survivors living independently in our community. At JSSA we are privileged to provide dignity and comfort to those who have seen the worst in humanity. Three-fourths of the Holocaust survivor clients JSSA serves in our area live below the federal poverty level. The majority has come from the Former Soviet Union. JSSA’s work, supported by The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, The JFNA Center for Advancing Holocaust Survivor Care and The Holocaust Survivors’ Community Fund, strives to keep these survivors living in their homes and with dignity.
Top photo: A food basket delivered to Holocaust survivors through JSSA and Nourish Now’s new partnership program.