JCC+MKE 3 min read

Reinventing the Jewish Community Pantry

By JCC Milwaukee August 3, 2020
staff working at drive-thru pantry

The Jewish Community Pantry partners and pivots to feed people in need

With the support of generous donors and community partners, the Jewish Community Pantry confronted the unprecedented challenges of COVID-19 at a critical time for residents of the Metcalfe Park neighborhood.

A report released by Pantry partner Metcalfe Parke Community Bridges outlined several indicators that made Metcalfe Park residents especially vulnerable to COVID-19: they have higher rates of high blood pressure, chronic asthma, diabetes, and COPD than other City of Milwaukee residents. In addition, 83% of the neighborhood is African American, and research has revealed that predominantly Black communities lack equal access to health care and testing for COVID-19. These risk factors, coupled with job-loss and growing economic insecurity, meant that the Pantry needed to determine how to operate safely and continue to serve the community; shutting down at a juncture of heightened crisis and increased need was not an option.

JCC professional and lay leadership worked together to reinvent the Pantry as a drive-through service in late April. Pantry Director Heidi Gould also partnered with Metcalfe Park Community Bridges to implement porch drop-offs, so groceries could be delivered to individuals that were not able to come to the Pantry. Funded through a generous grant by the Milwaukee Jewish Federation’s Fund for Jewish MKE, the drive-through reconfiguration included distributing PPE and safety vests for everyone working, setting up traffic cones outside, and creating greater distancing for volunteers inside. These changes have kept clients, volunteers, and staff safe.

During the COVID-19 crisis, the Pantry—which is part of the Hunger Task Force Emergency Food Network—has strengthened its partnership with Hunger Task Force. During a time when it was challenging to find volunteers, Hunger Task Force began creating “family boxes” of non-perishable food. They deliver boxes to the Jewish Community Pantry weekly to support clients and families; Pantry volunteers add fresh produce, frozen meat, and fresh dairy. The family boxes save four hours of preparation time each week.

In the weeks and months following the Pantry’s reconfiguration, hundreds of households have received fresh and non-perishable foods, as well as hygiene and baby supplies. Volunteers work hard every week to prepare bags of food for families lining up along 29th Street on Thursday mornings. Generous individuals have supported the Pantry financially, enabling us to fulfill our commitment to Tzedakah (justice), Tikkun Olam (repair the world) and treating our community with Kavod (respect). With generous support from dedicated partners, the Jewish Community Pantry will continue to provide needed assistance to families experiencing food insecurity in Milwaukee.