TORONTO — The co-chairs of this year’s Passover Food Drive, run by National Council of Jewish Women of Canada, Toronto section, expect a lot more people on their recipient list to be from the middle class.
Debbie Wasserman and Karen Fenwick
“The recession is now a few years old, and many people who have lost their jobs have used up their savings. This is resulting in a 10 per cent increase on our list,” said Debbie Wasserman, who is co-chairing the 27th annual drive with Karen Fenwick.
Wasserman said that out of about 200,000 Jews in the Greater Toronto Area, 11 per cent live in poverty.
According to Statistics Canada, the 2006 low-income cut-off for a single person was about $17,570 after taxes, and for a family of four it was $33,221 after taxes.
She said that “this is a sad year, because we’ll see recipients that do not necessarily fit the demographics of the program.”
Fenwick said that referrals are accepted from agencies, synagogues, schools, service groups and chaplaincy services, and recipients include individuals living in poverty, recent immigrants in need, and individuals with disabilities and inadequate financial resources.
Kosher for Passover food items are also made available to people in Jewish group homes, as well as to kosher food banks, Jewish homeless and incarcerated Jews.
Basic box ingredients include wine, apple juice, matzah, a jar or can of gefilte fish, vegetable soup, chicken soup, macaroons, tuna, jam, apple sauce, tea, crackers and oil, as well as a Haggadah and candles.
Fenwick said that when putting together their recipient list, organizers are respectful of people’s privacy. “We only accept people who have agreed to receiving a box. Needing food is a very emotional experience, especially for those who have never needed it before.
“We stress to our volunteers that they should not judge people by where they live. Recipients could live in a house, but have no money.
“We have volunteers add greeting cards to the boxes, because we want them to know that they are packing the box for a specific person, not just a statistic.”
Organizers are appealing to the community to turn up on delivery day, March 21 from 8:30 a.m.to noon, to help deliver boxes, and to make monetary donations to the drive which runs until March 18. Wasserman said “We do encourage donating food, because of the mitzvah of giving, but we can buy food wholesale, so our money goes a lot further.”
If volunteers want to help out on delivery day, but have no means of transportation, they can always help out loading the cars with boxes, she said.
This year, as in past years, the community has been generous, she said. “This is a self-contained program, and the money that comes in funds the project. People have responded to our pleas and have given whole-heartedly.”
About 1,500 people help out by sorting, packing and delivering boxes, a number of senior homes have raised money for the drive, and schools have placed bins so students can donate food, said Wasserman.
Three local Revera retirement residences are collecting kosher food and monetary donations.
Fenwick said that since last year’s drive ended, organizers have been trying to create partnerships and find possible sponsors.
“We’ve asked the North York Harvest Food Bank to try and help us find Jewish clients, and hopefully they’ll help us out with filling our boxes.”