By Tammy Mark

On a typical day during any other year, the Kosher Guru, Gabriel Boxer, can be found on the scene of the latest restaurant. He can also be found volunteering his time and working with the Leon Mayer Fund, an organization dedicated to helping community members in need. As the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, Boxer realized there was more work to be done. Boxer launched the Kosher Response initiative and, along with a network of generous donors and devoted volunteers, began delivering kosher meals, treats, and encouragement to doctors, nurses, and others serving on the front lines. Boxer and his team are now busier than ever, as Kosher Response has expanded its services to meet the evolving and growing needs of the community.

Tammy Mark: You’ve been helping feed others for close to two months and now working harder than ever. What are the latest initiatives you’ve been working on?

Gabriel Boxer: We now started “Feed a Family—Fuel a Restaurant.” Unfortunately, there are so many families that have been affected by the economic situations of COVID-19 and are financially distraught, who are not working and not able to put food on the table. So while there are other organizations helping with staples and other needs, we are stepping up to bring some normality to the families while bringing them some sustenance. We are trying to bring at least 1–2 meals per week, but we are doing it a little differently so we can support small businesses at the same time. We were given a grant and are partners in this project with Community Chest South Shore, where we are purchasing gift cards from local restaurants and giving these cards to families so they could go out and get what they want. A lot of financial situations cause psychological issues and other issues within the household, so we’re trying to help families with that. They can have some shalom bayis and sit down with their family and have a meal.

TM: Kosher Response has also been providing Shabbos in a Box to healthcare workers. How have you expanded that program?

GB: We have opened up our Shabbos in a Box to the community, where people can buy one for themselves and donate one. There are lots of families in the area that are hurting and some organizations and local rabbis that have reached out to us to help. For $200, people can purchase a box and enjoy a beautiful meal; it comes with everything from grape juice and challah rolls to main and sides to salads, dips and desserts—you name it.

People buying it will have the option of giving their second box to either healthcare heroes or to a family in need. We’ve pinpointed a lot of families on the South Shore of Long Island, including the Five Towns, Far Rockaway, Oceanside, West Hempstead, and Merrick. The first week was 15 families, the next 35 families, and the need is growing every week. So we’re trying to keep it going and help more and more families.

The heroes are still appreciating and even asking for it because it makes their Shabbos more special. We had someone reach out about someone they knew who was becoming more observant and how the package brought them so much joy.

TM: Tell us about the team of volunteers that work to make this all happen.

GB: Miri Stern has, from day one, answered the call to be a volunteer and has really stepped up to the plate. She helps every day by putting all the food requests onto the spreadsheets, getting everything organized, and calling all the volunteers. She’s opened up her house and we’ve taken over her garage for daily staging of all the deliveries going out. She’s working along with Devorah Kahan who goes through the e-mails each day and puts all of that information onto a spreadsheet. Miri has become my partner in Kosher Response, along with my wife Rebeka handling all of social media needs. It’s become an amazing team effort with so many volunteers and people stepping up from the community asking how they can help.

TM: What are you seeing in the Five Towns community as we go through this unprecedented situation?

GB: The needs of the community are increasing and things are getting worse as the days go by and so many people continue to be out of work. There are thankfully lots of organizations that are helping, and now Kosher Response is at the forefront working together with the organizations, healthcare professionals, social workers, rabbanim, and shuls to help get food to those families in need through our current initiatives and by working on other ways to help.

Thank G-d in the past the Five Towns area has not needed a kosher soup kitchen. Unfortunately times have changed but it will be impossible to build one overnight, so we are working with these local small businesses and getting food to families in need in a dignified and proper manner.

TM: Kosher Response is still dedicated to supporting the healthcare workers as well?

GB: We began delivering on March 29 and haven’t stopped since. It’s been a crazy ride and we’ve provided food for well over 10,000 people at this point. We now provide a minimum of 500 meals a day, with some days over 3,000.

There are still many patients with the coronavirus in hospitals and our healthcare workers are still working around the clock still doing so much, and it’s taking a toll on them psychologically. We’ve started a campaign “Letters to Heroes” asking local schools and shuls to write letters to healthcare heroes and frontline workers to show appreciation to them and say thank you, making sure they know they are appreciated by our community. We’ve had hundreds and hundreds of letters pour in and we’ve been delivering them to local heroes in our hospitals—they were so appreciative and really did make a difference.

We’ve been doing lots of pop ups. We’ve teamed up with Rita’s of Midwood and scooped up fresh ices to thousands of healthcare workers. We rented out the Simply Sushi truck and loaded it with thousands of sushi rolls and gave them out to various hospitals. David’s Famous Pizza has been generously providing pizza on a regular basis.

TM: As reports say “the curve is flattening.” Does the need for provisions for the frontline workers remain as vital? How are they doing?

GB: Now more than ever they need to see their hard work is appreciated, Baruch Hashem the frontline workers are seeing people go home every day now. However, there are still so many cases in the hospitals and it’s hard to deal with the fact they cannot save everyone. This has been taking a tremendous toll on their mental health. These small acts of kindness help their ability to do their jobs day after day despite the sadness around them.

They are working around the clock and taken on more hours and more shifts. They say it’s getting a little bit better but the toll, the stress, and the psychological issues like PTSD are there now. That they know that the community cares and understand what they’re going through makes such a difference in their lives and they appreciate it—and we’re going to continue to show our appreciation to them.

TM: At the same time you are still working with and trying to raise money for the Leon Mayer Fund as they are responding to the increasing needs of the community. How did Couture for a Cause get involved?

GB: Michal Weinstein of Couture created an inspirational “Kara Na” concept and logo when the pandemic hit and began been selling masks, jewelry, blankets, and more to raise funds to help with the hardships the community had been facing. She liked that the proceeds from the Leon Mayer Fund go directly to the recipients and we have no overhead. The campaign has raised over $7K towards the fund and is still going strong.

TM: Do you have any closing words of encouragement to share?

GB: As I’m out helping and delivering food to our frontline heroes on a daily basis, I see it happening more and more on the street. I encourage everyone to keep doing good and to keep smiling—it’s contagious. At the same time we’re still not out of this pandemic yet, so we must also be doing everything we can to follow the guidelines to stay safe and stay healthy.

TM: Thank you for all you do! We look forward to seeing everyone healthy and out and about with family and friends again soon.

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