Walking to the United Synagogue’s Head Office on a frosty Wednesday morning, I had no idea what to expect. Upon arrival, I was greeted by a small army of very friendly, masked volunteers, already hard at work packing food and toiletries.
Food poverty is not something I really associate with the Jewish community. Yet, volunteers were packing parcels for families in Elstree, St Johns Wood, Bushey, and Hampstead. Every corner of North West London is touched by this cost of living crisis.
Since March 2020 the United Synagogue has been providing food and toiletries to just under 200 families in the community every week. As the cost of living crisis bites and bills soar, the number of people needing this service is expected to grow, and grow.
The now essential service actually started by accident, Michelle Minsky, the United Synagogue’s Head of Chessed, explains. Every Pesach the United Synagogue would provide needy families with a kosher food parcel, however in March 2020 as people lost jobs and hid in their homes, demand for food continued to grow, so the United Synagogue continued to provide. Need never stopped, so the programme never ended. They expect the service to now run indefinitely and are even moving to a bigger facility in Bushey.
She confesses that the process has been streamlined immensely since it first started two years ago. They’ve set up production lines and come up with nifty tricks to help with packing like resting half-filled food parcels on chairs, so volunteers don’t have to keep bending down whilst packing.
To me the whole process seemed very impressive. Bags were packed with ready-made kosher dinners, dried goods, fresh food including fruits and vegetables, cleaning products, and toiletries. Volunteer drivers then collect the food and drop the bags straight to people’s front doors, preserving the anonymity of recipients.
Speaking to the volunteers, who were giving up their Wednesday to help those in need, it was clear that they just wanted to give back to the communities that had served them so well over the years. Michelle Minsky explains that the United Synagogue understands that it has a new responsibility to support its members. No one should be left to starve.
Frankly, it is simply unacceptable that our next door neighbours are debating whether they can feed their families or heat their homes. This is a choice that no one in the United Kingdom should have to make.
The touching testimony from food parcel recipients really highlights the importance of this service and the work that these volunteers do. The United Synagogue is hosting a fundraiser in March to fund the food packing programme and from someone who has been inside the bowels of this operation, it is obviously a really worthy cause.
It’s clear that there is a real crisis in the UK. It is ordinary, everyday people, with ordinary, everyday families who are struggling. So it is ordinary people who must step up to help them.