A Toronto Jewish food bank faces greater obstacles in the pandemic

Founded in 2013, the Chasdei Kaduri Jewish Food Bank initially began to provide four families in need with packed boxes of food and essential supplies to have a proper Shabbat.

But within a few months the operation grew to a small supermarket-like setting in the founders basement, then to a warehouse, and now Chasdei Kaduri operates out of a 2,500 square foot facility in Vaughan, Ontario.

“We’re the largest food bank in York Region. We feed over 2,500 individuals every month. The second largest feeds 1,000, and the need is only growing, especially now with COVID,” Jonathan Tebeka, the Executive Director and founding member of Chasdei Kaduri told Niv.

“We’re a 100% volunteer run organization, so there’s no salaries, nobody is paid, I’m not paid. We have full time jobs on top of this so everybody that you see here they’re all volunteers helping out of the goodness of their hearts. All the food that you see here is also all donated. We do some purchasing to compliment whatever we don’t get. We’re very lucky to be supported by the community.”

Food deliveries are sent out every Wednesday, a service only a few food banks provide and one that was in dire need during the first wave of the pandemic.

“We realized very quickly that all of the other non-kosher food banks closed because they have people come to their locations. We’re the only one that does deliveries. So they weren’t equipped to have people come in light of COVID,” Tebeka explained.

“We had a lot of non-Jewish people come to us for assistance so it was very hard because we typically only help Jewish people with kosher food.”

However, Tebeka said that his mother always told him when someone puts out their hand to ask for help, it doesn’t matter who they are, they should always be assisted.

With government support and by partnering with other food banks, Chasdei Kaduri managed  to help both the Jewish and non-Jewish community.

The dramatic increase in donations and willing volunteers during the pandemic showed Tebeka that through adverse times, communities display  considerable acts of kindness.

“We’re so thankful because that’s the time we needed it the most. We’ve seen a record-level of donations. And I guess people have a bit more spare time, they’re working from home and don’t have to commute, they’re looking for things to do with their kids and want to volunteer.”

However, because of COVID-19 the food bank had to narrow down volunteer opportunities.

Normally there is an open door policy, meaning anyone who offers to volunteer will be able to. But with the new restrictions that’s no longer possible, so the volunteers needed to be stripped down to a core group of people.

For the last three years, Flora said she became involved because she received a message from her synagogue notifying congregants that the food bank needed help.

“I called right away and started working and I love it,” she said.

Flora comes weekly to pick up the bread in the morning and then comes back in the afternoon to see if they need help with stocking, sorting, and packaging.

“I will keep coming back here as long as they need me. There used to be 10 to 15 volunteers before the pandemic at least. There’s a lot of work to do.”

Before the pandemic began, everything could get done on a Wednesday from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. but now the time needs to be scattered into four shifts.

Max, another volunteer, began working at Chasdrei Kaduri during the pandemic a few months ago and said he knew they needed help. .

“They have gloves, masks, hand sanitizers, everything that’s necessary. I did about 125 packages today,” he said.

The food bank offers people to order what they need online—they can quickly shop on the website, choosing from over 1,000 items. The volunteers arrange the packages based on what the customer has ordered, which include: fresh produce, canned food, personal hygiene products, and before High Holidays, certain meats from the butcher.

“It’s important to realize that the people we’re talking about, these families, they’re literally our neighbours. We walk past these people every single day,” Tebeka said.

“We work with them, we go to school with them. These are hard working people with children, where right now, life is not working for them, and we are here to assist them with something as basic as food so they can have the energy to work, and live, and feed their children.”

Photography, feature image, interviews by Shawn Goldberg. Text by Clarrie Feinstein. 

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