The Capital Kosher Pantry is the only all-kosher food pantry in the Greater Washington area, but it is one of more than 215 local-level institutions in 24 states across the country working to assist food-insecure individuals and families in the Jewish community. These invaluable community institutions are about to get a major boost with the launch of the Orthodox Union’s (OU) Kosher Food Lifeline.
The Kosher Food Lifeline, or KFL, is a new division of the OU created to help existing food pantries, Tomchei Shabbos programs, and related social service agencies throughout the United States in their efforts to provide kosher food to Jews in need. The new division will offer need-based food programs assistance with procurement, kosher food distributor relationships, government grants, and other logistical support that will improve their ability to meet the needs of their constituents.
“This is the first time a national program, at this scale, has addressed the needs of kosher food pantries, many of which are run by hard-working volunteers with limited resources,” said KFL Founding Director Allison Deal. “By coordinating purchases and helping corporate food donors to direct donations where they are needed, we can increase efficiency, eliminate waste, bring prices down, and, hopefully, help these agencies provide more nutritious, protein-rich kosher food to those who need it most.”
Yad Yehuda, which runs the Capital Kosher Pantry as well as the local Tomchei Shabbos program, helps hundreds of members of the Greater Washington Jewish community put food on their tables with dignity. For individuals and families in need, their hunger relief programs often mean the difference between having enough to eat and doing without sufficient nutrition.
Yad Yehuda welcomes donations of dried goods at its Silver Spring, Maryland, location and during food drives throughout the year; but the Capital Kosher Pantry is also able to restock its inventory every week thanks to its status as an authorized distributor for the Capital Area Food Bank. The Capital Area Food Bank distributes 45 million pounds of food yearly to the Greater Washington community through its partner agencies.
Reasons for food insecurity vary by community and personal situation. The Greater Washington area would not be classified as a “kosher food desert,” where there is an extremely limited supply of kosher food only available at high prices. Rather, the primary circumstances that bring people to utilize the Capital Kosher Pantry are serious economic challenges and/or limited mobility that requires food delivery.
“Financial strains within the Jewish community cannot be understated. As the OU tackles affordability issues on a number of fronts, we recognize those in our community who struggle each day to put nutritious kosher food on the table,” said Orthodox Union Executive Vice President Allen Fagin.
Kedem, a leader in the specialty food world with a focus on kosher, gluten free, and all-natural foods, provided a $200,000 grant to launch the inaugural KFL program in advance of Passover 2019. Yad Yehuda was one of the beneficiaries when Kedem provided over 150,000 pounds of kosher-for-Passover food for distribution by partner organizations to over 17,000 Jewish families in need around the country.
“It was truly a win-win situation,” said Kedem Vice President Charles Herzog. “Food insecurity is an important issue for us. We are always looking for ways to work with our communities and help where we can, and the OU’s Kosher Food Lifeline program ensured that we were sending exactly what was needed, where it was needed.”
No formal arrangements have been made between Yad Yehuda and the KFL just yet, but “we anticipate working with them to increase the amount of food we stock,” said Yad Yehuda Volunteer Coordinator Susan Koss.
“Their truckload of food [for Passover] made such a significant difference in the variety and amount of food we were able to offer our shoppers. To think that we will be able to receive more assistance is so phenomenal,” she said.
“Creating access to kosher food, one of the most fundamental components of Jewish life, remains a priority even today, and we are eager to support the kosher food pantries and programs that provide critical access to kosher food to those in need,” said Orthodox Union President Moishe Bane.
By Rachel Kohn
Rachel Kohn is editor in chief of Kol HaBirah.