Feature Stories

Feeding the hungry: The Jewish community responds to hunger in CT

Jewish Ledger | 12-09-11

By Cindy Mindell ~

There are eight Jewish family service agencies (JFS) throughout Connecticut, each one funded by its local Jewish Federation. In responding to the social-service needs in its respective community, each JFS works to provide food to the hungry, via a range of programs and partnerships. To do that, the agencies rely on the generosity of individuals within the community.  Here is a look at what each JFS does to feed the hungry…and how you can help in the effort.


JFS in Danbury receives many calls from families who are struggling. Many have experienced job losses or are facing medical expenses or just facing the high cost of living. The demand has increased gradually over the last few years – individuals, families, and seniors who have been on the client list have remained on it. JFS has provided food assistance to more than 25 individuals throughout the year.
Through its Passover with a Purpose program, JFS provides kosher-for-Passover food items and gift certificates for local grocery stores. The program is funded by the Greater New Haven chapter of BBYO and the Danbury chapter of National Council of Jewish Women. In the last six months, Jewish Family Services received a special allocation from The Jewish Federation, Inc. (Danbury), earmarked to help individuals and families in need. The program, modeled after Passover with a Purpose, provides gift certificates for local grocery stores. JFS has a small discretionary fund donated by local synagogues and from the Jewish Federation’s Learning Exchange program for emergency use. The fund has allowed JFS to provide gift certificates over the last five years.

To help: Donations of food gift certificates are of greatest value, as they allow clients to purchase fresh produce. Checks and gift certificates/cards can be sent to Jewish Family Services, Discretionary Fund, 69 Kenosia Ave., Danbury 06810.

Jewish Family Service Stamford/Westport houses the only kosher food pantry in Fairfield County. Demand has risen steadily over the last three years. In addition to dry goods, the pantry provides food cards to local grocery stores for the purchase of fresh foods.
This year, the pantry distributed close to 5,000 “meal units,” such as tuna, pasta and sauce, cereals, etc. to more than 200 families, all from the greater Stamford and Westport communities. Clients range in age from very young to seniors.  Approximately 40 percent are children under age 18, and 20 percent are seniors over age 65.

To help: JFS relies completely on community support for funding and food, and accepts donations of both by phone (203) 454-4992; mail, 431 Post Road East, Suite 11, Westport 06880 or 733 Summer St., 6th floor, Stamford 06901; and online at www.ctjfs.org.


Demand for emergency food and supplemental food increased by more than 30 percent in 2010. In 2011, JFS has received requests from many more middle- and working-class families. Prior to 2011, the food pantry averaged two to three emergency requests weekly. This year, it is not unusual to receive five or six walk-in emergency requests in one day.  The pantry serves more than 225 families monthly throughout greater New Haven, accounting for nearly 600 individuals or family members. Clients span the age spectrum, from infants to nonagenarians; 48 percent are age 18 to 64, 29 percent are children to age 18, and 23 percent are age 65 and older.

The Home Depot helps the Hartford JFS plant Jessie’s Community Garden, named in memory of Jessica Kostin. The garden’s harvest goes to the JFS Kosher Food Pantry.

To help: The pantry is always in need of donations of money and non-perishable food items, including canned goods, rice mixes, juices, kosher items, and pasta, as well as specialty foods such as no-salt, no-sugar, gluten-free, organic, and low-fat.  Monetary donations should be sent to:  JFS Food Pantry, 1440 Whalley Ave., New Haven, CT 06515 or made online a t www.jfsnh.org. Non-perishable food items can be dropped off by appointment: (203) 389-5599, ext. 121


The JFS Kosher Food Pantry serves several hundred people monthly.  Clients come from 18 towns ranging from Mansfield Center in eastern Connecticut to Woodbury in the west. Many are elderly, including those from the Former Soviet Union; others are families with young children, and still others are singles in their 20s and 30s. The majority are Jewish. The pantry distributes bags of food, toiletries and cleaning supplies weekly. Demand for food from the Greater Hartford Kosher Food Pantry increased tremendously starting in summer 2009. Consequently, by summer 2010, JFS was forced to restrict access to the pantry: Now, JFS clients may use the pantry once a week, non-clients who show need may apply for a food pantry access card, allowing them to use the pantry twice a month, and members of the Jewish community who are in need may use it any time. In addition to food, which the kosher pantry receives through Foodshare and donated items, JFS spends hundreds of dollars each week purchasing food, toiletries, and cleaning supplies.

To help: Monetary donations may be made by check, made out to Jewish Family Services with “Food Pantry” written on the memo line and sent to Jewish Family Services, 335 Bloomfield Ave., Suite A, West Hartford 06117; or by credit card by calling  (860) 236-1927. Food donations must be kosher. Especially needed items are white tuna in water, mayonnaise and salad dressing, pasta sauce, cereal, canned fruit, cookies, coffee, tea, and apple juice. Food donations can be dropped off at the JFS office on Monday and Wednesday from 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; Tuesday and Thursday from 9 a.m.-7 p.m.; and Friday from 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m.


Over the past year, the JFEC food pantry distributed 18,769 pounds of non-perishable food items to 2,942 individuals. The pantry serves an average of eight to 10 people a day and is open a total of seven hours a week over four days. Each client is given a three-day supply of emergency food for each person in the household. The majority of clients live in New London; other come from Groton, Waterford, East Lyme, and as far away as Norwich. JFEC also provides kosher meals to seniors in the community. Before Thanksgiving, volunteers prepared and served more than 100 kosher turkey dinners to almost 100 seniors in New London and Norwich.

To give: For information on making donations contact the Federation at (860) 442-8062.


Brownstein Jewish Family Service distributes close to $20,000 annually in grocery gift-cards and grants for kosher holiday food. Over the past year, JFS has held monthly screenings for SNAP (food stamps) and other basic support programs. As a result, nearly 100 individuals have become eligible for food stamps, ranging in age from toddlers to a 104-year-old. This year, JFS has fielded 120 calls related to food-insecurity issues, ranging from inquiries about local food pantries to SNAP screenings to monetary assistance for groceries. JFS initiated talks with the Connecticut Food Bank to help bring the Mobile Food Pantry to Southbury; in November, 75 local residents received bags of fresh produce from the truck. The JFS Centerpieces for Tzedakah baskets have generated thousands of dollars to purchase grocery gift cards for people in need in the local community. In May, the Federation Feet Team raised nearly $3,000 for area food pantries and soup kitchens in the Connecticut Food Bank’s annual Walk Against Hunger in Waterbury.

To give: Monetary donations are used to purchase grocery gifts cards. Donations may be made by mail, 444 Main Street North, Southbury 06488; by phone, (203) 267-3177; or online at www.jfed.net/jfs.html.

JFS provides a daily hot kosher lunch for seniors, with scheduled activities and van transportation to the lunch site, in conjunction with the Jewish Center for Community Services of Eastern Fairfield County, the Jewish Home for the Elderly in Fairfield, and the Salvation Army in Bridgeport. Lunches are delivered to the home-bound elderly by volunteers. JFS distributes Passover food baskets to needy and elderly Jews in the local community, provided by B’nai B’rith International’s Project H.O.P.E., as well as food vouchers provided by Congregation B’nai Torah in Trumbull. JFS also distributes a small amount of canned foods and scrip for walk-ins seeking food assistance.

To give: Monetary donations are welcome for holiday foods and scrip.  For more information visit www.jfsct.org.

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