By Stacey Dresner
It says in the Talmud that “providing charity for poor and hungry people is as important as all the other commandments combined.”
Children in the Greater Hartford Jewish community have taken that quote to heart by participating in an art contest sponsored by Jewish Family Service of Greater Hartford (JFS) and its Anja Rosenberg Kosher Food Pantry. The winning piece of artwork, illustrating the importance of feeding the community’s hungry – especially its children – will be one of the cornerstones of JFS’s new Youth Hunger Project.
JFS launched the Youth Hunger Project on Tuesday, Nov. 13 at “Embracing Possibility,” an annual event that brings awareness and raises funds for JFS and the kosher food pantry. The winner of the art contest was recognized at “Embracing Possibility,” where JFS also formally announced the creation of the JFS “Snack and Cereal” program, designed to address some of the pressing food needs of JFS client families.
A new reusable shopping bag was also distributed to attendees; JFS is asking the community to fill the bags with food donations so desperately needed by JFS and food pantry clients.
Anne Danaher, CEO of JFS, says that the Anja Rosenberg Kosher Food Pantry serves more than 700 families each year; about half of all recipients are children.
“We have many families of lower income, some of whom receive free breakfast and lunches through their schools and we felt a growing concern about how these families manage outside of school – in the evenings, the weekends, certainly during the summertime as well,” Danaher said.
Through the “Snack and Cereal” program, a separate section of the food pantry will now be devoted to healthy snacks and cereals specifically for JFS client families with small children.
“There are studies that clearly show the impact of food insufficiency on children,” Danaher said. “Some of those factors are developmental delays, behavioral issues in the school systems, that really often become mental health problems. We have statistics that indicate that poor nutrition on an ongoing basis is more than likely to mean a child is going to have to repeat a grade in school. Continued throughout their childhood, those are children who are in fact less likely to be able to graduate from high school.”
Danaher said that the Youth Hunger Project and the Snack and Cereal program “will strengthen the nutrition safety net for children…and hopefully catch children and families when these kids are young, when we feel we can have the most impact with healthy snacks and healthy cereals for these families…To start early and provide what is needed by these families was really the impetus for the project. We believe providing that good nutritional food early on will ultimately provide for a much better future for these children and their families.”
JFS put out a request for art work from children affiliated with several local Jewish institutions, including: Bess & Paul Sigel Hebrew Academy in Bloomfield, Mandell Jewish Community Center, Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Hartford, and JT Connect in West Hartford, all located in West Hartford, and the religious schools of Temple Sinai in Newington, and Congregation Beth Israel, The Emanuel Synagogue, and Chabad of Greater Hartford, all located in West Hartford.
The children were presented with the Talmudic quote about providing for the poor and hungry and asked to draw a picture to reflect what this mitzvah means to them.
“Through this project we are able to educate the youth in our community about hunger and those in need in Greater Hartford,” explained Pia Rosenberg Toro, president of JFS and founder of the food pantry, which is named in honor of her mother. “It is important for our children to understand that food insufficiency exists in our own Jewish community. The Anja Rosenberg Kosher Food Pantry makes a direct impact on these children’s lives.”
The winning entry, chosen by a committee whose members were selected by JFS, was designed and created by Olivia (last name withheld by request), a local fourth grader who attends religious school at Chabad of Greater Hartford. She entitled her work, “Good Heart, Lev Tov.”
“This is a picture of me, my mom and my rabbi delivering food to hungry children. They are crying and their hearts are half full because they are hungry. For me feeding the hungry is having a good heart, [in Hebrew] lev tov,” Olivia explained.
Besides being honored at the “Embracing Possibility” event, Olivia’s artwork will be displayed on notecards sent to JFS kosher pantry donors, and on posters promoting the food pantry and the Youth Hunger Project and its mission.
Three other contest participants – Michal, Kreina and Talia [last names withheld by request], all third graders at the Sigel Hebrew Academy – were named first, second and third place finalists, respectively.
“We teach our children at a young age that God gave us two hands: one to take with and one to give with,” said Rabbi Zev Silver, Hebrew Academy’s head of school. “We also teach them ‘olam chesed yibane’ – that the world was built on kindness, and that they have to show empathy and care for those in our community and in the world. Our students are actively engaged in ‘chesed’ or kindness [projects], which is why we decided to participate in this meaningful program with Jewish Family Services.”
The Anja Rosenberg Kosher Food Pantry distributes more than 90,000 pounds of food, toiletries and cleaning supplies each year to local residents within the Greater Hartford area. The food pantry is there to help anyone who is experiencing food insufficiency either temporarily or on an ongoing period of time.
“There are many needs that are dear to our heart, but nothing is more important to us than children in need, and children that are hungry most of all,” said Rosenberg Toro. “To us, no child should be hungry and wondering where their next meal will come from.”
CAP: Winner: Olivia, Grade 4. Title: Good Heart, Lev Tov “This is a picture of me, my mom and my rabbi delivering food to hungry children. They are crying and their hearts are half-full because they are hungry. For me feeding the hungry is having a Good Heart, Lev Tov.”
FOR A FACT
What do we mean when we talk about “food insecurity?”
In Connecticut, 414,730 people are struggling with hunger – of those, 117,380 are children. Here’s a brief look at the factual impact of hunger on children and adults.
• Food insecurity is often associated with many physical health conditions, such as hypertension and diabetes. Many researchers have started to examine the relationship between food insecurity and mental health to see what the connection is between the two.
• In a study of more than 3,500 low-income men and women, food insecurity was positively associated with depression. Researchers found that as the severity of food insecurity increased, the number of reported depressive symptoms increased. Those with very low food security had three times higher odds of depression when compared to those who were food secure.
• Food insecurity has specifically been linked with suicide. Compared to those who were food secure, those who were moderately food insecure had a 32 percent increased odds of reporting that they seriously considered committing suicide in the last 12 months; those who were severely food insecure had a 77 percent increase in the odds of suicidal ideation.
• Single mothers are a particularly vulnerable population and experience food insecurity at disproportionately higher rates than the general population.
• Another study that specifically looked at mothers and their preschool-aged children, found that as food insecurity increased, mothers had more mental health issues, including major depressive episodes and generalized anxiety disorder. The children in the study displayed increasing behavior problems as food insecurity increased.