Toronto kosher food bank may be forced to close shop

People line up to receive food at the Pride of Israel Synagogue’s Kosher Food Bank. (Annette Sherman-Segal photo)

The first kosher food bank in Toronto will be forced to close its doors to the 150 families it feeds every week, unless it receives help soon.

Officials with the Pride of Israel Synagogue’s kosher food bank said that its two main benefactors can no longer continue their support.

“If things continue as they are, I don’t see it continuing,” said Alan Marks, one of the founders of the food bank.

Volunteers pack bread products at the Pride of Israel Synagogue’s kosher food bank. (Jan Babins photo)

One of the organization’s largest benefactors was the Salvation Army, which almost two decades ago, found the will of a Jewish man the group had helped get off the streets. It simply said, “Feed the needy.”

Since the man was Jewish, the Salvation Army decided to put a portion of his remaining assets, which amounted to a considerable sum, towards buying food for the kosher food bank. Another man also left a large portion of his assets to the kosher food bank.

Yet both donations are dwindling.

Food sits at the Pride of Israel Synagogue’s kosher food bank. (Jan Babins photo)

Close to 25,000 Jews in the Greater Toronto Area, including more than 5,000 seniors and 3,500 children, live in poverty, according to United Jewish Appeal.

“We’re saying to Jews, you can follow the religion because we’re here to help you, we’re not turning our backs on you,” said Carl Zeliger, the chairman of Pride of Israel.

Many of the people who benefit from the food bank are elderly Russian immigrants, according to Marks. The synagogue does not ask anyone if they are Jewish and is open to all in need.

Grodzinski Bakery and Richmond Kosher Bakery donate excess bread products to the food bank, and No Frills sells it bulk food at a discounted price. The food bank also used to receive donations from local kosher food manufactures, but many of them have moved to the Unites States. Chai Kosher was a major contributor, but it is now closed.

“One of the biggest problems is the cost of kosher food,” said Susan Shiffman, the food bank’s volunteer co-ordinator. “My dream would be to give them meat.”

The food bank started with around six volunteers and has grown to between 25 and 30. On Tuesday nights, they pack bags of food and hand them out on Wednesday mornings.

Volunteers pack bags at the Pride of Israel Synagogue’s kosher food bank in Toronto. (Jan Babins photo)

Marks has calculated that the cost of the food bank is $800 per week. Pride of Israel has sent out over 30 letters to other synagogues and institutions asking for help with donations and food.

Twice a year for the past 25 years, Beth Tikvah Synagogue has run the Ruth Goldberg Beth Tikvah Kosher Food Drive, which collects food and donations from their members for the kosher food bank.

“There is great co-operation between the two shuls. It is a project that has become very dear to most of the congregants,” said Annette Sherman-Segal, the chair of the food drive.

“Give us another 10 shuls like them and we wouldn’t have any problems,” Zeliger said.