TORONTO — Mazon Canada, the national Jewish response to hunger, started 25 years ago as a temporary fix to feeding those in need of help.
Today, the need is greater than it was then, says Ida McLaughlin, Mazon’s national executive director.
“We started with allocations of $10,000, and in 25 years, we have allocated $7 million to frontline organizations that battle hunger. That’s an extraordinary amount.”
Mazon’s mandate, she said, is to fund only those organizations that have as their primary concern the relief of hunger, or those that have a distinct program specifically targeted to an identifiable group suffering from hunger.
Organizations Mazon helps include food banks, synagogues and churches, schools and community centres across the country.
The seeds for Mazon Canada were planted, McLaughlin said, when Rabbi Arthur Bielfeld, now rabbi emeritus of Temple Emanu-El in Toronto, heard about the work of Leonard Fein, who founded Mazon in the United States in 1985 as a result of the famine in Ethiopia.
Fein’s approach was to apply the three per cent principle, she said. “This means we ask our supporters to donate three per cent of the food costs of any simchah or milestone event so Mazon can allocate those funds to the hungry.”
The organization encouraged the community to symbolically invite a hungry stranger to their table, and it later branched out to special events, appeals at holidays and the sale of occasion cards, she said.
“We still live by the original tenet of considering those who don’t have, and including them in our everyday lives.”
The community’s need comes down to the housing crisis and unemployment, she said. “There is a lot of instability in people’s lives. Their home may be paid for, but what about feeding their children? Sometimes they have no choice but to give up healthy eating.”
The need is still so great, Mclaughlin said, that they have to turn away agencies that have asked for help. “It is difficult to choose, but we try to help out grassroots organizations. Before they get funds, we ensure that they have a charitable status, and that everything else is above board. It breaks our hearts, though, when we have to turn people away. Our job is to feed the hungry. We don’t like to leave people out.”
McLaughlin, who comes to Mazon from a managerial position at TD Bank, has “always been involved in food security. I have volunteered for a charity that takes care of seniors and the disabled, and feeding people in need has always been a priority for me. It is an issue I feel deeply about. I am honoured to be part of an organization that has its priorities straight.”
To commemorate Mazon Canada’s 25th anniversary, the organization is holding a fundraising event at Roy Thomson Hall, Nov. 27, at 6 p.m. The evening includes kosher food prepared by caterers, vintners and pastry artists, live entertainment, a silent auction and a short presentation to honour the organization’s founders.
For more information, call Mazon Canada at 416-783-7554 or go to www.mazoncanada.ca.