By Toby Kleban Levine / JWF Board Member & Event Chair
On Sunday morning, September 19, while many in the community were competing in the Josh Billings RunAground, 145 other local citizens gathered at the Berkshire South Regional Community Center to pack 25,000 Meals of Hope. Sponsored by the Jewish Women’s Foundation of the Berkshires (JWF), a constituent organization of the Jewish Federation of the Berkshires, the event took place at the South Berkshire Regional Community Center.
Meals of Hope (MOH) is a Naples, FL-based organization that runs meal-packing events throughout the country. Each packed pouch contains dry ingredients that need to be reconstituted with water to provide dinner for a family of six to eight people. Cartons of pouches will be distributed to food pantries by the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts.
I first learned about Meals of Hope in Florida, where I participated in several packing events. I thought this would be a wonderful way for our JWF members to do something extraordinary for the community. Steve Popper, MOH’s executive director, could not have been more helpful, and his assistant, Matt Durfee, who was the point person from MOH on-site on Sunday, was a fantastic partner and organizer.
When we started thinking about this event, we thought the packers would mostly come from our membership. But this quickly turned into a community effort, with volunteers from Construct, Berkshire Bounty, Berkshire South, Muddy Brook Elementary School, and a local hiking group joining JWF members. As a matter of fact, we had so many volunteers that we created two shifts of workers and had to cajole the first shift into giving up their slots so others could participate.
Organized into six assembly lines, each captained by a JWF board member, tables soon became competitive to see which could finish their quota first as the filled cartons piled up against the wall. A sense of collective accomplishment was evident. Assembly line captains Helice Picheny, Shirley Friedman Yohalem, Phyllis Cohen, Robin Weiser, Pommy Levy, and Jane Glaser trained the volunteers on their lines, kept the tables stocked with ingredients, and cheered workers on throughout.
Liz Jaffe, JWF’s volunteer coordinator, and Anne Schnesel, a JWF board member, checked in all the volunteers, who were required to wear masks, show vaccination cards, and, once in the packing room, don gloves and hairnets. It was not unusual when the volunteers were thanked, for them, in turn, to thank the organizers instead for the opportunity to do something hands-on for their neighbors.
JWF co-chairs Phyllis Cohen and Robin Weiser note: “Established to help our Berkshire Community through charity and acts of kindness, JWF enables our members to pool financial resources and provide grants to help out neighbors in ways we could not as individuals. This Meals of Hope project is especially satisfying: it enabled us to both provide meals for neighbors in need and to provide a hands-on experience for our members. “