Community Unity Feeds Families in Need

Originally published in The Island Now on May 28, 2020.

Sisterhood leaders from Temple Beth-El of Great Neck received such a positive response to their call for volunteers to bake homemade desserts for hospital workers last month that they decided to complement the efforts of the temple’s Brotherhood by offering sweet treats to the growing number of food insecure families in Great Neck who receive bags of staples and produce from the St. Aloysius Roman Catholic Church Interfaith Food Pantry every other week.

In an effort to defeat food insecurity in the community, Temple Beth-El’s Brotherhood became the principal supporter of the 25-year-old food pantry three years ago. At that time, the pantry was providing only nonperishable food. More than a year ago, Brotherhood members Stuart Lubert and Steven Koteen enlisted a local food distribution company to deliver dozens of cases of fresh fruits and vegetables to the pantry.

Bertha del Carpio, who coordinates the food pantry program, regularly tells Brotherhood what produce is needed. Last year, Brotherhood provided more than 600 cases of fresh fruits and vegetables to approximately 60 local families. Every other Friday, the distributor had been delivering about 20 cases, which were shared with local families when the pantry opened the next day.

“Since the COVID crisis began, the routine deliveries have grown to include hundreds of pounds of rice and beans,” explained Brotherhood President Matthew Moshen. “Brotherhood Past President Allan Lowenkron is now volunteering at the pantry many days each week, storing delivered and donated food, packing food bags for the pantry’s clients and routinely searching local stores to add to the pantry shelves. Recently, Brotherhood member Steven Friedland has joined him.”

Much of the funding for Brotherhood’s efforts comes from the congregation’s donations and from local community groups like the Great Neck Soccer Club, according to Moshen.

“I am very proud to be supporting this mitzvah with the other volunteers and am grateful for the support that the temple provides,” said Lowenkron. “It is truly a blessing to be fortunate enough to help others.”

After more than 50 families volunteered to help Sisterhood provide goodies for essential workers at North Shore University Hospital and Elmhurst Hospital last month, filling four SUVs to capacity, many of the participants expressed a strong interest to contribute if the group planned a similar action again.

So Sisterhood leaders Judi Rosenzweig, Jenn Still-Schiff, Rochelle Rosenbloom and Sandy Lubert reached out to the temple family, explaining that the Great Neck families who receive food from the St. Aloysius pantry would truly appreciate homemade treats.

The organizers again received an overwhelmingly positive response from the community. Sisterhood was hoping to collect 100 family-size servings, but wound up

with more than 300 dessert packages in the temple parking lot on Thursday, May 21, completely filling three SUVs, which were transported to nine brimming shopping carts and four long tables inside the pantry.

“St. Aloysius’s Interfaith Food Pantry was the recipient of your generosity,” Sisterhood leaders told the donors. “The number of families coming increases every week.”

Temple Beth-El Brotherhood members helped unload the baked goods and bring them inside. During distribution on Saturday, May 23, 117 families—or approximately 468 people—received food. Senator Anna Kaplan, a temple member, helped distribute the packages.

“We have an awesome team,” said del Carpio. “Thank you all for your dedication and support, and for all the donations. Our neighbors have called me to thank all of you and to tell me the cookies were delicious—and it was quite an honor to have Senator Kaplan working with us.”

Lowenkron agreed. “Anna Kaplan, our state senator, and one of her staff members were on-site while we were distributing food. They both helped by making food bags, transporting the bags from the social hall to the main floor and handing them out.”

The Brotherhood Past President was thankful for the outpouring of support.

“Also assisting was Gloria from St. Aloysius and Jason from CYO,” noted Lowenkron, after the event. “Thank you, Steve Friedland, for making the produce bags both yesterday and this morning. Thank you to all the bakers—a tremendous amount of baked goods were given out to the families. Thank you also to the Great Neck Soccer Club for your donations and support, which have left the pantry stocked with items needed for those less fortunate. All the families that we support were very appreciative, saying ‘Good morning,’ smiling and saying ‘Thank you’ numerous times.”

The Great Neck Soccer Club was happy to help and plans to continue contributing to the food bank.

“We at the Great Neck Soccer Club look forward to working with all of you for many years to come in continued support of our community,” said Rishi Bhatia. “Many kudos to all of you for your hard work and dedication. Please continue to let us know how to best help. We look forward to our next Costco run this week.”

One of the Brotherhood members who began the initiative to provide fresh produce to the pantry was in agreement. “It was totally amazing. Thanks to all who participated in helping the less fortunate,” said Koteen. “All our faiths agree—this is our mission. May we continue doing God’s work.”

Tikkun olam, or repairing the world, has become a way of life for many temple congregants. Even the youngest community members helped out. In addition the Times Up Club at Great Neck North High School and the Girl Scouts contributing baked goods,

congregant Jacob Podwall celebrated his 13th birthday on Saturday by holding a food drive at his house to fill the pantry.

“We did a drive-by food drive on Jacob’s birthday, for his bar mitzvah project,” said his mother, Barbara Podwall, who handed out chocolate cupcakes and Hershey’s Kisses to donors to celebrate her son’s birthday. “It was great! Lots of people came out in the pouring rain.”

Sisterhood was grateful to everyone who provided treats for these local families. “In these tough times, it’s great to know that our community supports those in need.”