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Feeding the Hungry

The Anja Rosenberg Kosher Food Pantry celebrates its expansion

By Stacey Dresner

WEST HARTFORD – With recyclable grocery bag in hand, an elderly woman earlier this month perused the shelves of the Anja Rosenberg Kosher Food Pantry, located in the offices of Jewish Family Services of Greater Hartford (JFS).

A JFS staffer assisted her, suggesting items she might like – a jar of tomato sauce, a box of maple and brown sugar oatmeal. When she was done filling her bag with healthy kosher food items and a few personal hygiene products, the staffer helped the client to her car outside.

Each year the Anja Rosenberg Kosher Food Pantry provides more than 90,000 pounds of food, toiletries and cleaning supplies to people like this woman – community members who are experiencing temporary or long-term times of need.

On Nov. 14, a recent expansion of the Anja Rosenberg Kosher Food Pantry will be celebrated with a virtual grand opening and ribbon cutting at the home of Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen.

“The Anja Rosenberg Kosher Food Pantry has provided vital services to our community for the past 15 years,” Jepsen told the Ledger. “I’m very honored that my wife, Diana, and I can open our home to help celebrate an organization that continues to give so much to so many Greater Hartford families when they are most in need of a helping hand.”

“We are proud that the new, expanded location of the Anja Rosenberg Kosher Food Pantry will serve more members of our community who experience food insufficiency,” added Pia Rosenberg Toro, JFS development co-chair, vice president and Hunger Event co-chair. “Especially during the holiday season, we want to ensure that no family is without food now or all year long.”

Anja and Gene Rosenberg with their daughter, Pia Rosenberg Toro, and her husband, Mickey.

The pantry was rededicated in 2013 in honor of Rosenberg Toro’s mother Anja, who for many years worked tirelessly to aid the community’s hungry, both as a volunteer and board member of JFS and as a volunteer at the House of Bread in Hartford.

“My parents, Gene and Anja, have taught me the importance of Tikkun Olam, repairing of the world,” Toro Rosenberg said. “It is our responsibility to take care of one another and through the Anja Rosenberg Kosher Food Pantry, my husband Mickey and I can instill these values in our daughters.”

The vast majority of Jews in the greater Hartford area probably don’t realize that there are Jews nearby who are affected by food insecurity. But last year alone, the food pantry served the members of 628 families in the greater Hartford area – single parents, families with several children, seniors, Holocaust survivors and elderly from the former Soviet Union – even younger individuals struggling with employment.

“Our ability to provide the very basic non-perishable kosher foods really makes a difference to these families,” said Anne Danaher, JFS executive director.

A local mother who uses the pantry praises its staff for their caring and respect.

“We depend on the Anja Rosenberg Kosher Food Pantry weekly for our basics such as pasta, tuna, milk, bread, peanut butter, spaghetti sauce and gluten-free items,” said the woman, who wished to remain anonymous. “One of the great things about the pantry is that my therapist is often able to grab the free and clear laundry detergent we need because of allergies. No other food pantry that I have ever used has supplied us with laundry detergent and with a little one in diapers, it really is a necessity.

“The other amazing thing is that the pantry provides items that food stamps won’t cover such as dog food and needed health and beauty supplies like toilet paper, deodorant, shampoo and conditioner. The volunteers are very dedicated and always seem to remember my family’s special needs.”

Fifteen years ago, JFS began storing necessary household supplies for needy clients on a few closet shelves.

“We had clients that needed very basic items, even things like toilet paper. So it started even with not so much emphasis on food,” Danaher recalled. “Then over time, we move towards a full-fledged kosher pantry.”

The newly expanded pantry is a bright, clean space, with shelves, neatly filled with kosher non-perishable foods.

“The most basic foods– tuna, pasta, cereal. The staples in your diet,” she explained.

This also includes all-important protein-packing foods like canned beans and peanut butter necessary to fill out one’s diet.

“We also fortunately have one of the Jessie’s gardens behind our building so we are able to provide fresh produce over the summer months and we also get produce from other areas like Adamah Farm in Falls Village,” Danaher added.

Pam Mondschein, coordinator of the pantry, also prepares for upcoming holidays.

“Thanksgiving is coming up and the pantry is preparing for that. I am keeping aside certain things right now like canned pumpkin and apple sauce, cranberry sauce,” she said.

And, of course, the pantry stocks Kosher for Passover foods before Pesach.

Pia Rosenberg Toro’s daughters, (l to r) Maddison, Mya and Mackenzie, visit the food pantry named in honor of their grandmother, Anja Rosenberg.

This pantry also offers a separate space for toiletries like shampoo, deodorant and feminine hygiene products, and household supplies like cleaing supplies, paper towels and toilet paper, which Mondschein explained are often expensive and not covered by food stamps. Not many food pantries offer these kinds of items.

And unlike some food pantries where clients receive pre-made bags of goods, the Anja Rosenberg Kosher Food Pantry is an “open choice pantry.” Clients are able to fill their own bags with the items that fit their needs in a dignified manner.

“You feel like you are having a shopping experience,” Mondschein said. “We want to empower people to make those choices for their family and let them feel as if they are caring for them in the best possible way that they choose.”

Clients who are approved and placed on the pantry access list can receive food twice in a calendar month.

Families with one or two people may take one bag; those with three or four members take two bags of food; and families of five or greater may take three bags of food from the pantry.

The Anja Rosenberg Kosher Food Pantry is able to fill its shelves through donations from individuals; synagogues, including the nearby Beth El Temple and The Emanuel Synagogue, both of which regularly collect food for the pantry; community groups and businesses, including The Crown Market and Whole Foods in Bishop’s Corner, Foodshare and the Adama Farm CSA.

Besides dropping off donations of non-perishable food, donors may also make monetary contributions so that needed items can be purchased for the pantry.

JFS is now working with The Crown Market on the “Help Us Feed 100 Hungry Families.” Through this Thanksgiving promotion, people in the community can make an $18 donation that fills a Crown Market shopping bag with all the Thanksgiving trimmings for one local family in need. Donors can participate by going to the Crown or visiting www.facebook.com/JFSHartford/.

“If we stand together and work together for the same mission, we can embrace possibility,” Rosenberg Toro said. “We are all working together to make a difference to help the less fortunate people in our own community by putting an end to hunger and providing basic human necessities that we all take for granted.”

For more information about the Anja Rosenberg Kosher Food Pantry, contact JFS at (860) 236-1927 or at www.jfshartford.org.

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