Delivering Comfort and Food In Jewish Cleveland

Twice a week, Katie, a Holocaust survivor, gets a friendly knock on her door – it’s a meal being delivered to her home by a volunteer through Jewish Family Service Association (JFSA). “I can't stand up or walk as much as I used to be able to,” Katie said. “So, I really appreciate having the meals come to me. But I enjoy the people who deliver it even more; they're such lovely, wonderful people.”

Katie is one of hundreds of people every week in our community who receive hot meals through JFSA, a Jewish Federation of Cleveland beneficiary agency. “Our clients know that JFSA is here for them. They know they can count on us,” said Jamie Lowy, associate director, caring at home with JFSA. “About a quarter of the clients we serve hot kosher meals to are Holocaust survivors. When the COVID-19 pandemic began, there was so much fear and anxiety for them. This heighted sense of confinement brought back painful memories for many, especially as it related to food security. Knowing they had this reliable source of food was so important to them on many levels.”

For nearly 20 years, JFSA has been feeding those in need throughout our community. When the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in Northeast Ohio, JFSA staffers stepped up to meet the rapidly increasing demand. “When the stay-at-home order was issued, many of our volunteers could no longer deliver meals so the JFSA team delivered them ourselves. It was amazing to be able to do that,” said Lowy. “These are our family members. These are someone's parent and grandparent. We felt compelled to make sure that these people were taken care of.”

Once community members could resume delivery duties, a new, younger crop of volunteers emerged. Some were high school students, some college students, and some even families with younger children. “We were overwhelmed by the number of people who wanted to help care for the community during this difficult time,” said Lowy. “It made a lasting impression on our clients, too. These volunteers are our heroes.”

Sue is one of those newer volunteers. Over the summer, she brought her children on her routes. “Planting those seeds early was important,” said Sue. “One of my sons was struggling with what he should do for his Bar Mitzvah project. I felt this was the perfect learning opportunity for him to see what it means to give back, and it only took a few deliveries to see the impact he was making.”    

For Katie, it’s a chance to ‘wake up early and put (herself) together.’ Sometimes, the volunteers are the only people she sees during the week. “I have the same people delivering and I get to know them,” Katie said. “I look forward every time I know they're coming. We have very nice conversations and I enjoy everything they do and everything we talk about.”

Many volunteers are not just delivering food, they’re going above and beyond to help the client. That includes picking up medication from the pharmacy, going grocery shopping, and even just bringing the mail in. “We’re there for them like we would our own family,” said Lowy. “When our volunteers go to their homes, they bring a positive energy that provides emotional support. They make the client feel like they are the only ones who matter.”

“It’s amazing the connections you can make in that short amount of time you’re there,” said Sue. “Even through their masks, you can see the smiles and their eyes light up. And while I know I’m giving my time to them, I’m getting even more back in return.”

For more information on how Federation is assisting with food insecurity, contact Melanie Halvorson at 216-593-2868.

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