With the weather still hot, summer camp over and the children restless, the last week before school starts can be a challenge for many parents.
All the more so for haredi parents, who on average have more than three times the number of children as other New York Jewish parents, according to a recent UJA-Federation of New York study. While many of the children receive federally subsidized meals at camp and school, during that last week of summer — with no food programs — low-income families often struggle to get everyone fed.
This year, however, children in Williamsburg and Borough Park were able to pick up free kosher lunches from Monday, Aug. 27 through Friday, Aug. 31.
From a vehicle that resembled an ice-cream truck — minus the music and sugary treats — more than 2,700 kosher meals were distributed. Each day the truck set up shop at 11 a.m. outside the office of Williamsburg’s United Jewish Organizations, a heavily trafficked area near the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway; two hours later it arrived at the entrance to Borough Park’s bustling Gravesend Park. Stroller-pushing mothers, usually with several older children in tow, lined up for the food. In Borough Park, many picnicked in the park with the plastic-wrapped trays of food.
While any child under age 18 was qualified to pick up a meal, the overwhelming majority of patrons at the kosher truck were Orthodox Jews, possibly because the city already offers non-kosher meals all summer from central locations in various low-income neighborhoods.
This was the first time the late-August kosher lunch program was offered — the result of collaborative planning among New York City’s Department of Education (DOE), the Jewish Education Project, Met Council on Jewish Poverty, a Jewish family foundation and community groups in Williamsburg and Borough Park.
With the Jewish Education Project (formerly the Board of Jewish Education of Greater New York) and Met Council coordinating, the DOE provided the vehicles and drivers; the kosher food was paid for with a combination of federal funds (allocated through the DOE for summer food programs) dollars from the foundation, which covered the price differential between kosher and non-kosher food. (The foundation did not want to be identified publicly.)
The community groups took care of getting the word out.
Rabbi Marty Schloss, the director of the Jewish Education Project’s day school and yeshiva department — which among other services, helps schools obtain government funds for which they are eligible — told The Jewish Week he saw the project as a model of inter-agency collaboration and cooperation.
“Processes that normally take six months took only a couple of days; and challenges that normally take weeks to resolve were successfully addressed in hours,” he said.
During the school year, many Jewish schools prepare/provide kosher lunches themselves and are reimbursed by a federal/New York State payment structure. According to Schloss, millions of reduced-price and free kosher meals are distributed each year to New York yeshiva students.