Food Pantries Swell at Passover

In Time of Plenty, Many Jews Struggle To Make Ends Meet

Poverty Amid Plenty: Volunteers pack up food packages at a popup Passover food pantry in Brooklyn. Surprising numbers of Jews are seeking help, even those who once considered themselves middle-class.
claudio papapietro
Poverty Amid Plenty: Volunteers pack up food packages at a popup Passover food pantry in Brooklyn. Surprising numbers of Jews are seeking help, even those who once considered themselves middle-class.

By Paul Berger

Published April 05, 2012, issue of April 13, 2012.
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“Nobody will take a single mother with four kids who is not working,” Rebecca said as her 5-year-old son, Alan, stared out through the backseat window of the car.

Inside the food pantry, Laura Mezhiborsky said Rebecca’s story was sad but not uncommon. “She’s not alone in this situation,” she said.

“The recession pushed a lot of people down into poverty,” Brest said. “They’re really struggling to make ends meet on a daily basis.”

Mezhiborsky, executive assistant of the Jewish Community Council of Kings Bay, said that when she took over the running of the food pantry six years ago, she had 70 clients. Today she has 400.

“Unfortunately we have more demand than we can provide,” Mezhiborsky said, adding that she has somewhere between 80 and 100 people on a waiting list.

The Passover food pantry, held at an annex of the Kings Bay Y Jewish community center, in Sheepshead Bay, is stocked by the Met Council and by the Food Bank for New York City.

Many of the mostly elderly people lining up for a handout did not want their names to be revealed.

“I am ashamed and humiliated that I even have to accept help,” said one American Jewish woman, 64, who telephoned later to ask that her name be withheld.

“Food stamps don’t last the whole month,” she said. “This is my last week, and they’re not due again until the seventh [of April], which means the holiday would have begun and I wouldn’t have been able to get this food, because I am out of my stamps.”

Mezhiborsky said a growing number of people needed her help, thanks largely to an aging Russian-speaking immigrant population and an increase in food prices.

Particularly hard hit have been those people whose income from Social Security places them slightly above the level that would make them eligible for other benefits, such as Medicaid and food stamps.

The lucky ones, like Galina Bogdanova, receive supplemental Social Security income — she gets $785 per month — plus $200 worth of food stamps.

Still, by the end of the month, even those with benefits will find themselves having to choose whether to pay for medication, rent or food — which is what brought Bogdanova, 75, to the food pantry.

Speaking Russian, she said that prices had risen and she feels the pinch. Still, she manages to get by.

“As long as I have my strength,” she said, before pushing her shopping cart out into the spring sunshine.

Contact Paul Berger at berger@forward.com or on Twitter @pdberger


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