Special to the JTA a Moveable Feast
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Special to the JTA a Moveable Feast

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“There’s enough food left over from Jewish organizational functions in this city to feed every hungry Jew in the community,” said Robert Kohler, who served for 30 years as assistant national director of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith. In those years he had watched hundreds of pounds of food remain untouched after an organizational dinner and wondered if it was recycled or simply thrown out. When he became executive director of the Metropolitan New York Coordinating Council on Jewish Poverty last summer and learned that there are thousands of Jews who are not getting enough to eat in the city and who need kosher food, Kohler talked with former colleague Nathan Perlmutter, ADL’s national director. Out of this discussion emerged ADL’s commitment to turn over left-over food from its dinners to the poor–Jews and non-Jews.

Kohler then approached City Harvest, asking for its help in dealing with the growing need for emergency kosher food in the Jewish community. City Harvest is a non-profit telephone-and-transportation network created over three years ago by Helen VerDuin Palit to pick up food from restaurants, caterers, organizations–“anyone with good food”–and deliver it in its vans within a few hours to facilities that feed people.

Every day City Harvest picks up and delivers enough food to 235 soup kitchens and food pantries for 4,500 meals. Its trucks are equipped with thermal boxes and refrigeration to preserve prepared food.

Over 1,400 food companies donate food to City Harvest, which has duplicated its program in Halifax, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Montreal, New Haven–where Palit ran a soup kitchen and similar operation–Paterson, N.J. Philadelphia and Winnipeg.


Kohler and Palit together developed City Harvest’s new Project Masbiah (from the Hebrew word for eating to satisfaction), which will collect prepared and uncooked kosher food from Jewish organizations and food companies and deliver it to various Jewish agencies which feed people–and, as well, to non-kosher shelters, soup kitchens, and food pantries throughout the city.

The Project will use one van for kosher food only. It is currently being prepared for this purpose according to traditional kashrut standards under the guidance of the Orthodox rabbinical staff of the Metropolitan Council.

The Council will also ensure that all contributed food is strictly kosher, and provide City Harvest with a list of agencies to receive it. Together with the ADL and the American Jewish Congress, it will approach Jewish organizations and food companies for contributions of food.

Project Masbiah is currently being finalized and is expected to be operational by the fall. One problem Kohler is working on involves developing food storage facilities at potential recipient Jewish agencies, most of which don’t have them.

The ADL has already turned over food left over from all its spring functions to City Harvest, according to Christina Velasquez, associate director of its meetings and conferences department. She and department director Deena Lee know by 7 p.m. when the smorgasbord is over, how much food remains and how many people will not be showing up for dinner. The caterer wraps up the food–which averages between 70 and 100 pounds–for City Harvest. “What gets picked up at ADL at 8,” Palit told JTA, “is eaten within two hours at a shelter.”

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