The need for food banks has greatly increased since March in San Diego.  Even smaller church food banks have seen the number of people double or triple. Most food banks are working overtime to meet that demand.  Jewish Family Service is one of the non-profits who has increased their output and added a new program called Project 19 to meet the extra need during this pandemic. Of COVID 19. This project is meant to serve seniors 65+ all over San Diego who are homebound because of COVID by bringing  boxes of groceries or freshly frozen meals.

Jewish Family Service has always had various food programs, including their free Corner Market and their Foodmobile meal delivery service [a member of Meals on Wheels America], but they have had to readjust after the pandemic. The Corner Market has closed while the Loonin Family Kitchen has increased their capacity from 400 to 1,600+ meals daily. They are now running two shifts a day.

The kitchen followed Jewish Dietary laws before, but it has transitioned to a non-kosher kitchen to meet the demand.  JFS can still procure pre-made kosher meals for the clients that need them.  The Foodmobile still delivers meals to vulnerable older adults and younger adults with disabilities.

There is also a Drive Thru Food Distribution set up at JFS itself from Monday to Friday, 11:00 to 1:00 PM where anyone from the community in need can drive through and receive a bag of groceries.

However, the biggest food program now is Project 19. Some of the JFS staff was redeployed from other positions to help out. The call went out for more volunteers, too. As Carole Yellen, Senior Director of Strategic Partnerships said, “All hands are needed on deck now.”

Yellen oversees the volunteer program and community engagement.  There are about 10 volunteers daily along with the JFS staff, working in the warehouse, helping with the drive thru and packing up boxes of food. In addition, about 75 volunteer drivers are needed each week to deliver those boxes of food to 15 routes or 39 zip codes every day. The homebound seniors receive either a box of groceries or a box or freshly frozen meals.  Many people in the community are reaching out for help for the first time.

I also became a volunteer driver for the first time.  Different parts of the county are served each day and I work on Tuesdays which is East County.   So far, I have delivered four times.  Although I have lived in East County for almost 30 years, it has been interesting to discover new areas and streets that I had never been to before.  It is also satisfying as the seniors who receive the food are grateful.  My clients have been White, African American, Latino, Vietnamese, and Middle Eastern.

In fact, last week when I delivered to a Palestinian couple, there was a nice exchange.  As I walked up to the front door wearing a mask, I yelled out, “Salaam Alaikum”.  The elder gentleman who answered the door got excited and in a loud voice said, “Shalom Aleichem!  I am from Ramallah, but my wife is from Jerusalem.  Thank you to Jewish Family Service!!”

Sometimes it is hard to find the clients’ homes as their address don’t always match the actual physical location of the building, but eventually the boxes get delivered and it feels good to know that you have helped others.

Project 19 is an ambitious project that needs money and manpower to meet the need of former and new clients. At the beginning of the pandemic, JFS partnered with Team Rubicon, a nationally recognized disaster relief organization. This was very helpful, but temporary as it was only for a few months.  JFS has also received help from the County of San Diego and the San Diego Food Bank. Donations are always welcome as well as more people willing to volunteer their time.

On Sunday, October 18th, there is going to be the High Holy Day Food Drive.  As Yellen explains, “This is an annual JFS food drive with our Jewish community that typically brings in 30,000 lbs of food to our Hand Up Food Pantry. Based on the exponential increase in food insecurity during COVID, we are asking our community to help exceed that annual goal. Previously, congregants received a brown bag on Rosh Hashanah to return filled with food on Yom Kippur. Since we expect many services will be virtual this year, we are offering the Jewish community a drop off day directly at JFS as part of the High Holiday Food Drive. Additionally, we are working with synagogues to tailor their participation. People can either drop off food at JFS or contact their synagogue to learn about those individual efforts.”

For more information, the website is www.jfssd.org

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Miriam [Mimi] Pollack was born in Chicago, but moved to Mexico City when she was five years old. She lived and worked in Mexico for over 20 years. She currently resides in San Diego and worked as an ESL instructor at Grossmont College and San Diego Community College Continuing Education until June 2018. She writes for various local publications.