By Lisa Howard
SINCE 1990, YAD EZRA (OR “HELPING HAND” IN HEBREW) HAS BEEN PROVIDING KOSHER GROCERIES TO LOW-INCOME JEWISH FAMILIES IN THE COMMUNITY. While there are other food pantries in the area, Yad Ezra is the only kosher pantry.
But that’s not the only thing that makes them different — they also offer a choice pantry, which is to say that clients can choose which items they want from a shopping list of options ranging from dry staples like canned fish and whole-grain pasta to whole chickens and fresh produce. “We’re unique in that we purchase much of the food we distribute rather than just relying on donated foods,” says Lea Luger, the Executive Director of Yad Ezra. “Because of that, we have a bigger variety to offer clients.” They serve about 1,250 families each month and distribute over a million pounds of food every year. In addition, they provide clients with non-food essentials like toilet paper, diapers, and household cleaning items.
With only six people on staff, Yad Ezra depends heavily on volunteers to keep the pantry running smoothly. Fortunately, they have a core group of 125 to 150 volunteers who are willing to help out, whether that’s delivering food to homebound clients or sitting down with clients to review the menu and make sure they’re maximizing the points they’re allotted. (Yad Ezra gives each client a certain amount of points to spend based on their family size.)
Yad Ezra is a supplemental pantry, meaning that they assume clients have other means of financial support, such as SNAP benefits. Still, most clients find that their monthly visit is equivalent to about three weeks of groceries. “There’s a misconception that if you live in a certain area or are of a certain religion or ethnicity or demographic, no one in that community is low-income, and that’s not true,” Lea says. “Hunger is everywhere. But food insecurity is not like homelessness — you don’t see it. It’s hidden.”
Although Yad Ezra is a kosher food pantry, says Lea, because they care about the hunger issue in general, they go out of their way to address food insecurity in the greater community. She and her staffers work with fellow organizations like Gleaners and Forgotten Harvest to make sure that all donated food items are given to someone in need. If Yad Ezra receives donated food that isn’t kosher, for instance, they give it to those fellow organizations so that they can distribute the food to the greater community.
Yad Ezra also advocates for Metro-Detroit programs that focus on food, including programs like Do It 4 Detroit, a micro-grant program that supports grassroots organizations addressing hunger or food justice issues in Detroit, Highland Park, and/or Hamtramck. This year, Yad Ezra was able to secure grant money that is allocated directly to Do It 4 Detroit. They also participate in the Crop Hunger Walk and 24 Hour Food Stamp Challenge every year.
ANOTHER ASPECT OF YAD EZRA’S MISSION IS TO PROVIDE COMMUNITY EDUCATION, particularly for youth. Four years ago, they were able to expand their Giving Gardens and hire a master gardener to oversee the gardens, allowing them to host agricultural workshops for both youth and adults. (Most of the harvest also goes to their clients.) Helping with the gardens, hosting food drives at schools, and participating in food drives at synagogues are all ways Lea would love to see more youth get involved as volunteers.
And, she points out, it’s important to stay involved. “This is the time of year when people start thinking about Thanksgiving and call us wanting to donate a turkey dinner,” she says. “Awareness is high at this time of year. That’s fantastic! But the truth of the matter is that hunger is a year-round issue. Do a food drive in May or June, when the need is just as great — hunger doesn’t go on vacation.”
www.yadezra.org | 248.548.3663