Jewish Food Bank Grows With Need

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The Midwest’s largest independent Jewish food pantry just keeps growing. And as more people use the pantry, which is tucked away in a white warehouse near the Southfield-Oak Park border on 11 Mile, Yad Ezra has changed the way it serves people.

Now rabbis identify people in need and often pick up the food on their behalf. Volunteers still help with deliveries. The pantry’s development director, Lea Luger, turned to the Michigan Board of Rabbis last year to help draw in more families who need help. “We said, ‘Please, if you know people who are too embarrassed to come, let us know,'” Luger said.

During the last few months, 70 families from metro Orthodox congregations have been added to the client list with the help of their rabbis, Luger said. Helen Kozlowski, executive director of the Food Bank of Oakland County, said the bank is starting to get more requests for kosher foods from local food pantries. The food bank distributes food to pantries. “As the Jewish community’s needs increase, we have to keep up with the demand,” she said. On Sunday, her agency was a cosponsor the Empty Bowls Open House, held at Yad Ezra to heighten awareness of hunger and raise food bank donations.

One visitor Sunday, Greg Moreyn, 42, moved from the former Soviet Union to Farmington Hills two years ago. He loaded up bags with matzo, margarine, macaroni and meat. Moreyn represents more than 75 percent of Yad Ezra’s clientele — recent immigrants. Yad Ezra still serves many senior citizens, but it is seeing an influx of young divorced mothers and large families, Luger said.

In its 11 years, the number of families the pantry feeds has grown from 230 to 1,050 per month. No one in the country keeps statistics on independent Jewish-only food pantries like Yad Ezra, said Jim Ohls, a researcher at Princeton-based Mathematica Policy Research who is conducting a survey of food pantries across the country. But Ohls said Yad Ezra is the largest independent Jewish pantry in the Midwest.

“That there would be a pantry serving 1,000 families a month, serving only kosher food, that astonishes me,” he said. Later at the open house, each visitor drew a number. The number corresponded to a bright colored papier-mache, ceramic or glass bowl made by students throughout metro Detroit. The bowls were empty, and the numbers symbolized how life is sometimes the luck of the draw, Luger said.

“We’ve had volunteers that have become clients and clients that have become volunteers.”

This article was originally published in the Detroit Free Press.

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