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Feeding bodies and souls: Statewide nonprofit holds distribution event

Local, regional officials help Teach NJ hand out hundreds of meals.

On July 2, local officials attended a meal distribution, organized by Teach NJ and located at Young Israel on Cooper Landing Road, intended to feed hundreds of children and families affected by food insecurity due to the ongoing pandemic. From left, Yoni Yares, Teach NJ Grassroots Coordinator Renee Klyman, Assemblyman Louis Greenwald, Mayor Susan Shin Angulo, Teach NJ Executive Director Katie Katz.

Just prior to the 4th of July weekend, Teach Coalition and one of its member programs, Teach NJ, held a food distribution event for families adversely affected by the current pandemic at Young Israel in Cherry Hill. 

Part of New Jersey’s Kosher Summer Food Program, the distribution, which has taken place in four strategic locations throughout the state, has served an average of 7,000 kosher meals each week over the past month to both Jewish and Islamic families.

“This program provides meals for an entire week: breakfast and lunch,” explained Katie Katz, executive director of Teach NJ. “We’ve done it here in New Jersey at four sites. Cherry Hill is one, we have another one in Elizabeth, one in Teaneck and the other one in Bergenfield.’’

As Katz further explained, as far as the township is concerned, Teach NJ’s mission during this time is to fill any gaps that the ongoing meal distribution by Cherry Hill Public Schools hasn’t covered.

“There are many programs like these in public schools within this community and across the area, and we wanted to make sure there were opportunities for families who keep kosher to make sure they also have meals during this time,” she said. 

“It’s also an opportunity for our partners and friends in the Islamic community to be able to receive foods, because many of them observe halal.”

The impact of Teach Coalition’s effort won’t just be felt in the Garden State. 

“We are in states all across the country, where we advocate for equity in funding for non-public schools,” Katz noted. “We’ve been rolling this program out, it’s a USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) program, using government funding to provide for all children during this pandemic, to make sure they are receiving nutritious meals every single day.”

The total delivery amount was expected to be in the neighborhood of 700 to 1,000 large boxes of meals, according to Renee Klyman, grassroots director of Teach NJ. That meant more than 500 area children would be fed during the brief window on a blistering afternoon where cars pulled through the small parking lot of the Orthodox synagogue on Cooper Landing Road. 

“The weekday box tends to have fun kids’ food, like pizza, pizza bagels and paninis. The Shabbat box, which is what our families love, has chulent (a Jewish stew), challah, fruit and kugel,” said Yoni Yares, a resident and activist who was in charge of delivery logistics. 

Due to the strategic placement of distribution sites, per state Assemblyman Louis Greenwald, families from as far away as Glassboro and Trenton would be served. 

“In New Jersey, we now have 1.1 million people who are unemployed in a state of ninne million people,” Greenwald stated. “For many, they are heads of household, which means there are children involved. And one out of every 10 adults suffer food insecurity, 10 percent of senior citizens, and tragically, one out of every eight children. And no child should go to bed hungry.

“We know there’s more types of illnesses, comorbidities, diabetes, obesity, which leads to a higher risk with this virus,” he added. “The work you’re doing, if it can take a level of stress off a family, off an individual, if it makes a child’s life easier, if it helps a senior citizen, or mother and father who are currently unemployed and are waiting for their job to restart, you’re doing God’s work.”

According to Yares, interest in the program swelled from 300 families at the start to 500 within two weeks. 

“There are people who fall through the cracks, and that is something that affects me personally, not getting people to fall through the cracks. We are all hurting right now,” he said. 

The program was helped by an active campaign that included email notifications sent by every synagogue in the area to their faithful; a notice on the Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey’s website; promotion by local Jewish day schools; and good, old-fashioned word-of-mouth awareness.

“This program has served over 28,000 meals to local families during these unprecedented times, and these meals are all the more important, as these families face financial and social upheaval caused by the pandemic,” noted Cherry Hill Mayor Susan Shin Angulo. 

“Equally as important is the care and the humanity these families feel from your thoughtful acts. And I’m proud that our community can come together and support one another.

“We are in this all together.”

For more information on Teach Coalition’s broader mission as well as its mission during COVID-19, visit: https://teachcoalition.org/covid19/. For information on Teach NJ’s mission, visit: https://teachcoalition.org/nj/

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