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A volunteer helps at the Family Table.

Family Table sees increased need as cases of COVID tick up

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Family Table sees increased need as cases of COVID tick up

A volunteer helps at the Family Table.

WALTHAM – Jewish Family & Children’s Services’ Family Table food pantry, which aims to end hunger by providing nutritious kosher food to those in need in the Greater Boston Jewish community, is once again seeing an increase in demand due to a surge in COVID-19 cases across the region.

The program, which also provides Jewish holiday items such as challah and Shabbat candles, is also seeing an increase of charity or tzedakah of more volunteers willing to help out, said Bernice Behar, Family Table’s director.

“We are definitely seeing a lot of people,” said Behar about the need, especially from more families seeking emergency food requests. However, the increase in these requests now is not as urgent as it was in the spring, when the food pantry saw demand surge from an average of seven families a month to 120. Behar said they received 25 emergency food requests in November.

Family Table provides food for families that earn up to 200 percent of the federal poverty guideline, and while it varies from month to month, it typically serves more than 500 families in 108 cities and towns in Greater Boston, the North Shore and the South Area. Last month, as COVID-19 again increased across the state, that number spiked up to 535 families.

Family Table and their volunteers offer four distributions each month – one Sunday in Waltham, Canton and Marblehead, the latter being at Temple Sinai, and a weekday distribution in Waltham. On the North Shore, 83 families are enrolled, Behar said.

Early on in the pandemic, Behar said they were seeing increased demand from those who were unemployed, confined to their homes or taking care of an ill family member. Over the summer, demand subsided.

“It’s really picked back up again,” Behar said of those families referred for emergency assistance.

They have also seen an increase in older members of the Jewish community, a segment that has naturally been on the rise for the food pantry. They are seeing many older, Russian-speaking families. In addition, more than 10 percent of their client base is made up of Holocaust survivors, Behar said.

Family Table is unlike food programs for the general population located in urban centers that work with the immigrant community.

“We are not seeing quite the same kind of pressing need,” she said of a recent report in The Boston Globe on Nov. 24 about the unprecedented demand food pantries and food banks are seeing, in some cases double and triple what it was last year.

“The people we serve, there is a different texture to it,” Behar said.

Family Table is nondenominational – its primary mission is to serve the Jewish community, but it serves whoever is referred to it, regardless of religious affiliation. Clients are referred by social services agencies in the community or by case management of Jewish Family & Children’s Services. Families apply to be part of the food program.

“We’ve been enormously supported by the Jewish Community,” Behar said, in the form of contributions and those volunteering. This year, the more than 1,000 Family Table volunteers won the Simone Lottor Exceptional Service Award for their “extraordinary commitment to JF&CS and those we serve,” stated a blog post on the Jewish Family & Children’s Services website.

Behar said she was gratified by people stepping up.

For more information on volunteering or about the program, you may contact Family Table at familytable@jfcsboston.org or 781-693-5593. 

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