MONTREAL — In what may be a sign of the times, Federation CJA has made a $100,000 emergency donation to the MADA Community Centre, Montreal’s only kosher food bank.
In an open letter, federation president Marc Gold, left, said “these
are not ordinary times and, frankly, we are very concerned.”
He said there has been a sharp rise in requests for food from members of the Jewish community, and that is expected to increase as the effects of the economic crisis trickle down.
Gold speaks of a new kind of needy emerging: the recently unemployed and those of the middle class who are finding it hard to make ends meet.
“Accordingly, we are working very closely with our agencies to assess the impact that the current crisis is having on members of our community, and to put into place those measures that will enable us to meet the needs of our community as they unfold,” Gold writes.
These steps include examining all programs and services and cutting expenditures in other areas in order to make sure resources are available where they are most needed.
Contingency plans are also being developed to deal with how the uncertain environment may affect the federation’s own financial means.
The injection of cash is welcome news for MADA, an organization founded 15 years ago under auspices of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement.
It reports that its food bank, located in a discreet part of Plaza Côte des Neiges, is now supplying 2,350 people per month, 500 more per month than one year ago.
By the end of this year, the food bank will have distributed close to five million pounds of food, more than double the amount in 2007, free of charge.
In addition, MADA provides free hot kosher meals, three times a day, every day of the year, in its dining hall. A couple of years ago it launched a mobile cafeteria providing lunches six days a week from two locations in Côte St. Luc – not generally thought of as an impoverished area – at Sunnybrooke and Westover avenues, and outside the Caldwell Residence for seniors. It also delivers food packages to shut-ins and supplies other Jewish charities, such as the Outremont Chassidim’s Tomchei Shabbos.
Director Yosef Drihem said that, although no one is turned away, at least, 90 per cent of the clients are Jewish.
No questions are asked of those who turn up at the dining hall, but to use the food bank, which is open three days a week, a referral is necessary.
“MADA is struggling to keep up with the demands,” said its event/marketing co-ordinator Susan Puritz. “This is just the beginning, and the needs will continue to grow. Poverty in the Jewish community is a reality.”
At the same time, Drihem said, donations of food and money have been levelling off.
Even in the best of circumstances, MADA must purchase most basics, things like flour, canned tuna, oil, sugar and rice because wholesalers rarely have surpluses, he said. Meat, fish and dairy products are also not often donated. Thanks to a single donor’s specifications, MADA now has a regular supply of infant formula to give out, Drihem said.
MADA is no soup kitchen; everything is done to preserve the client’s dignity. The dining area has neat, clean individual tables covered in red and white plastic tablecloths, and clients are served at their tables, mainly by volunteers. They do not line up with trays at a counter.
Thirty-five to 40 show up on the average day, usually the aged or mentally/physically challenged. Many stay on, probably because they are lonely.
MADA has become one of the largest food banks in Quebec since a major expansion last year, Drihem said. Storage space, including a huge room for non-perishables, as well as refrigerated and freezer areas, now totals 6,000 square feet.
It also has two trucks, a refrigerated 16-footer and regular 20-foot vehicle for pickups. Staff and volunteers sort and, where necessary, re-package bulk foods.
Food bank clients receive about $150 worth of food per person in the family each month.
MADA’s budget last year was $1.17 million, with less than 10 per cent of that coming from the federation, Drihem said. It also relied on about 80 per cent of its food being donated.
“This year we expect our costs to be higher, but we don’t know by how much,” he said.
“The people we are seeing are changing. Many are working people who are struggling,” he said. “But we are probably reaching only a quarter of the people who could use help.” He expect things to only get worse.