Serving needy ones who obey strict diet: a kosher pantry

May 02, 1991|By Laura Lippman | Laura Lippman,Evening Sun Staff

As Baltimore's soup kitchens and food pantries struggle just to find enough food to serve an ever-increasing clientele, special dietary needs dictated by religious beliefs or medical problems can be difficult to accommodate.

For 10 years Jewish Family Services has offered a unique service within the area -- a kosher food pantry that provides supplementary food to needy families who observe traditional dietary laws.

Last week, the Lilly Endowment Inc. announced it will give a $15,000 grant to the service's Kosher Food Pantry, part of $200,000 the Indianapolis foundation will distribute to projects assisting Soviet Jews who have resettled in this country.

The pantry, created in 1982, has a mission that extends beyond the city's immigrant families, according to those who oversee it. Its clients also include the elderly, single-parent families, the chronically mentally ill and families in which someone is unemployed or disabled.

"We find the demand is there, it's growing and it's heart-breaking," says Hilda Hillman, who helped to raise money for the pantry's start-up. "We're trying to meet the needs of everybody."

Hillman says the pantry is a result of the recession of the early 1980s. Small Jewish businesses had been hurt by layoffs at local companies, she says. "We were getting requests from people we had never served before."

At first, the pantry wasn't even a line item in the Jewish Family Services' annual budget. Now it's budgeted at $30,000, almost all of which goes to purchase food. Volunteers staff the pantry on Park Heights Avenue, packing and distributing food.

Some food is donated by area congregations; the rest is purchased. "Some of the food -- peas, beans, corn -- comes from general sources, but other things need to be bought through kosher distributors," says Ann Gresser, a volunteer since 1988. Because the pantry has no refrigerator or freezer, the emphasis is on canned food and dry goods.

Kirk Wilborn, a regional manager for the Maryland Food Committee, says other pantries and soup kitchens in the area seldom have the luxury of tailoring their food to special needs. Instead, Wilborn says, they put aside low-sodium and low-fat food, then give it to clients who say they have to follow restricted diets.

While the pantry's food is unique, its growth over the past decade parallels that of other Baltimore pantries.

The Kosher Food Pantry, for example, distributed only 227 bags of food its first year of operation. This year, it is averaging 625 bags to 165 families every month. Demand at Passover almost doubles the demand, with 1,000 families receiving supplementary food this year.

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