Jewish charities adjust in wake of the coronavirus

Some of the food that B'nai Brith will distribute as part of its COVID-19 response. (B'nai Brith Canada photo)

It was over the weekend of March 13 and 14 that the staff at MAZON Canada realized the coronavirus would likely represent a major challenge in the work they do. MAZON, which bills itself as the Jewish response to hunger, is a grassroots network that helps provide food to vulnerable Canadians, both Jewish and non-Jewish. It accomplishes that goal by supporting over 130 programs across the country, including food banks, school nutrition programs, hot meals, community gardens and others.

MAZON realized it would need to make emergency grants to its partners to help guard against the incoming wave of food insecurity that would arise as a result of the coronavirus, and take measures to protect against it. That meant a complete overhaul of the granting system, said Izzy Waxman, MAZON Canada’s director.

“Our granting selection process is probably going to be completely different this year. Our usual process is very thorough, but the downside is that it takes time. There’s three full months from when applications open until decisions are announced. That’s normal for many grant makers and it’s alright when organizations apply each year – but this is an emergency situation and we’re pushed to completely rethink how we can identify need and meet it ASAP. People who just lost work can’t wait three months before there’s food in their cupboards,” she said in an email to The CJN on March 24.

On top of the emergency grants that MAZON is providing, it’s also making efforts to offer guidance, support and structure to pop-up community efforts that may be lacking in those departments.

“We might offer fundraising advice, organizational oversight, things that non-profits know but that volunteer pop-ups might not. It’s different depending on the project – we’re trying to use our network to find need and meet it, rather than define a problem and a solution in advance,” Waxman said.

It’s imperative that MAZON do all it can to help these organizations because they are really feeling the stress right now, Waxman said. She said many Canadians are skipping meals and rationing food because they don’t know where their next meal will come from. Many of the programs that usually operate rely on volunteers, donations from businesses and fundraising events, all of which have been cancelled due to the virus.

A few days ago, some of our partners had a 40 per cent increase in requests for help. By the time this article is published, I’m sure some of our partners will have twice the requests for support they had two weeks ago, if not more. The support the Jewish community offers through MAZON grants matters more than ever,” Waxman said.

She added that MAZON is also advocating for policy changes to address the issue of food insecurity, and that the best way for people to help is to donate.

“Many of us are generous in our own communities, but never hear about hunger in small towns in other parts of Canada – but MAZON Canada does. With MAZON, donors can respond to the needs of those in their local communities and far away at the same time,” she said.

In Toronto, B’nai Brith Canada also had to make some on-the-fly adjustments in the wake of the coronavirus. The organization had to cancel their seniors’ program on March 16, said CEO Michael Mostyn, when it became clear that it wasn’t safe for groups of people to congregate – let alone groups of survivors and seniors. In follow-up work, B’nai Brith realized a lot of seniors and other vulnerable people were having difficulty securing food. So they decided to take action and round up donations and volunteers to directly distribute food to people in need. Mostyn said B’nai Brith already has experience in similar direct food deliveries from its Hanukkah and Purim food basket programs.

The target demographic for the deliveries, Mostyn said, “is twofold. First, it’s those that are living below the poverty line that really can’t afford, at this point in time, to purchase a proper meal, and it’s also primarily targeting our elderly, who really need to be socially isolated at the moment.”

He said B’nai Brith will be continuing to look for donations and volunteers as long as this crisis is ongoing. Donors can support one family a week for $75, and it’s simple to sign up on the website, Mostyn said. Already, he has seen the support come pouring in.

“The initial response has been very, very positive,” he said. “However, we’re in this for the long haul. It’s not the short sprint. And so even though we’ve had many generous donors step up to the plate, we do need to ensure that week over week, we’re going to be in a position to continue providing this essential support to the community.”


To donate to MAZON Canada’s COVID-19 response, go to

To donate to B’nai Brith’s COVID-19 response, go to