While thousands of Jewish kids unwrap candy bars, hamantaschen and juice boxes this Purim, more than 1,500 needy families will receive a bag filled with goodies like whole-grain cereal, granola bars and canned tuna.
Over the past few weeks, synagogues and communities — encouraged by the UJA-Federation of New York — have collected healthy foods and packaged them up to be distributed on Purim by the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, or by local soup kitchens.
“Our goal was to invite the Jewish community to wrap their arms around a citywide issue” — of poverty and need, said Susan Kohn, executive director of the volunteer and leadership development division at UJA-Federation.
Traditionally, the shalach manot package, which is sent on Purim, must contain two different foods. “That message is really a message of eating balanced and healthy food,” said Alex Roth-Kahn, planning manager of the federation’s Connect to Care program. “Let the idea of shalach manot have value to the community at large.”
So the federation partnered with Americorps, and united the celebration of Purim with the observation of National Nutrition Month in March. With each package, four recipe cards for healthy meals were included, along with a note explaining the holiday of Purim.
“Our tradition has something to say about what it means to eat right and to eat healthy,” said Roth-Kahn. “We want to bring that message to larger community and show we have something to offer.”
The agencies set a goal of preparing over 1,000 packages for distribution. At press time, over 1,500 had been created, and more than 2,000 are expected to be delivered before or on Purim. Fresh Direct also donated fresh produce to be included with the prepared packages.
Dina Huebner and her daughter Abigail spent an hour last Sunday packaging food and creating cards to include with the gifts at Kehilath Jeshurun on the Upper East Side.
I wanted her to have the “experience of packaging basic food staples,” said Dina Huebner.
“It makes need and poverty much more real and vivid to a child,” said Huebner, “than simply to put coins into a tzedakah box or having her see me write a check.”