In the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, there were some shortages of food and household goods. That situation has been resolved, but many community members are conducting themselves as if there are still scarcities. In Brooklyn, Queens, Monsey, and here in the Five Towns, several days a week cars are lined up for a mile or more to have their trunks loaded up with a wide array of foodstuffs so that people apparently do not go hungry.
There are several components to these grocery giveaways. For Stu Tauber, vice president of the UJA Federation of New York, there is a great deal of what he refers to as “food insecurity” that becomes more pronounced when there is a dramatic shift in our daily routines like there is today.
Mr. Tauber says the UJA food pantries are experiencing a greater demand than usual, and there are pop-up pantries opening around New York in response to the current crisis.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic and the loss of many jobs and incomes, an inordinate amount of people were living from paycheck to paycheck and are now dependent on unemployment insurance and occasional stimulus payments. For people in the throes of this type of pattern, food insecurity is a real and present matter.
Here in the Five Towns, the New York State Education Department began sponsoring a massive food supply program at the beginning of the summer with plans to keep it going until Labor Day. According to former District 15 board president and current board member Dr. Asher Mansdorf, over 18,000 meals are doled out each week in a well-organized initiative from the parking lot of the Lawrence Middle School on Broadway in Lawrence. An additional 1,800 meals are distributed in West Hempstead.
Now, whether or not you intentionally get in line on Broadway to collect the food offering, you just may end up somewhere on that line anyway. If you are in traffic and find yourself thinking that there is an unusual volume of cars on Broadway for a mid-morning, well, you are on the food line.
Over the last six weeks, the fashion in which the food is distributed to thousands of people has been significantly streamlined. Instead of waiting an hour or more as many did in those first couple of weeks, cars are steadily rolling through, with an extensive staff loading that week’s packages into the waiting cars.
I asked Dr. Mansdorf whether there was concern that the food giveaway was having an impact on sales generated in area food stores. He said that the food distribution is mostly that of staples. “Listen, if people can save money on groceries then they can possibly spend that savings on clothing for their children, or maybe it will be easier for them to pay their mortgage that month,” he said.
I asked him about some observations that a lot of the people on these multiple food lines are not necessarily in financial distress. “If only half of the pickups are needy people, isn’t it worthwhile?” Dr. Mansdorf asked. The giveaways in our local area are all strictly kosher, Dr. Mansdorf estimates that as many as half of those on the pickup line don’t necessarily keep kosher or are even Jewish.
For months our kosher food establishments here, along with stores like Costco and Trader Joe’s, had lines to get inside. You may have heard on news broadcasts that for a while shelves were being emptied of water and toilet paper, as word was manufactured that there would be imminent shortages, which there never were.
In our community and probably in others, too, crisis is closely identified with food shortages. Many families here and in other Jewish communities in New York have family that emigrated from Europe after World War II. In addition to the widespread and systematic murder of Jews, for those who survived, the most outstanding memory was that of profound starvation. Based on that ordeal alone, this community takes pride in always being around an abundance of food.
This summer’s massive food distribution effort may have little to do with starvation or historical food shortages. The motivation for a good deal of this national effort is the coronavirus and the forced shutdown of restaurants, diners, and coffee shops throughout the length and breadth of the land.
This is where Mordechai Roizman of Monsey becomes a key player in food distribution for the Five Towns community. His organization, World of Giving, has been around for more than seven years, working with companies like Walmart and others to donate overages of clothing and other items that need to be moved out of the stores.
That’s where the virus, the restaurants, and our nation’s farmers come into the same picture. U.S. farmers grow just about everything that can be placed on your table in any restaurant — from the contents of a fruit cup to the vegetables in your luncheon salad. It’s all grown somewhere out there in the American heartland and trucked into our busy cities.
So what happens when, all of a sudden, all our restaurants close their doors and have no idea when they will be able to open again in any substantive way? Earlier this year, to address this vital issue, President Trump earmarked $3 billion to buy produce from farmers and have it donated to food pantries and charity-oriented food distributors like World of Giving.
It is indeed a bit of a longer and interesting story, but the tons of produce and other items distributed in the Five Towns, West Hempstead, Brooklyn, and Rockland County, just to name a few locations, are in our cars and our homes courtesy of the U.S. government.
Speaking with Mordechai the other day, it becomes clear that World of Giving, which works locally with Rabbi Simcha Lefkowitz and Gabriel Boxer, is clogging up our thoroughfares with lots of free stuff, but that perhaps is a small sacrifice we all have to make.
Mr. Roizman points out that aside from food, over the last few months they have distributed bicycles and furniture, and he is waiting for a delivery of more than $1 million of clothing from the GAP. How these items end up on World of Giving trucks and in our homes is, to an extent, the result of the impact of the coronavirus combined with the largesse of many of these countries’ corporate leaders.
So what’s this all about? It’s about people helping people, it’s about feeding children, improving lives, and moving the world in the direction it should always move in — doing good for people and improving their lives. O.K.? Let’s get something to eat.