MILWAUKEE – The long-standing practice of distributing bags of traditional Passover food items to families in need is in jeopardy.
A Ma’ot Chittim food drive and giveaway event has been hosted at the Jewish Home and Care Center for nearly a decade in its current format thanks to one large financial donation.
Many smaller monetary donations have helped keep the drive up and running, but each year, organizers have seen accounts dip with expenses of about $13,000 annually, according to Reenie Kavalar, a Ma’ot Chittim committee member and volunteer.
Ahead of the 2017 drive, “we don’t have enough funds to do what needs to be done,” Kavalar said.
Typically, between 550 and 600 families pick up bags filled with supplies – matzo, canned gefilte fish, grape juice, matzo ball soup mix, chicken, horseradish and candles – to host a Passover Seder.
The cost amounts to approximately $36 per family, according to Kavalar.
The families that show up to collect bags of food ahead of Passover are typically living in poverty. Many are seniors, and a large population of Russian Jews who came to the United States as refugees attend the event, Kavalar said.
In the past, attendees were predominately from the east side of Milwaukee, but in recent years, “it’s became much broader,” according to Kavalar.
Ma’ot Chittim is a joint effort of the Coalition for Jewish Learning and the Jewish Community Relations Council, both of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation; Harry & Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center; Hillel Milwaukee; Jewish Community Pantry; Jewish Family Services; Jewish Home and Care Center; Tikkun Ha-Ir of Milwaukee; the Wisconsin Council of Rabbis; and the Rabbi Sheinfeld Maos Chitim Fund.
Committee members are working on a grant proposal and soliciting donations from friends and neighbors.
Between $8,000 and $10,000 needs to come in for the event to run as planned April 2, 2017, and the group’s “lofty goal” is to raise $36,000 to get them through the next three years, according to Ma’ot Chittim committee member Sami Stein Avner.
“We’re looking for some larger donors, but we also, of course, want to appeal to the community,” she said.
Committee members see hosting Ma’ot Chittim as a religious duty.
“It’s making sure that everyone who wishes to celebrate the holiday can,” Kavalar said.
“Being able to have a Seder is a mitzvah in and of itself,” Avner said. “We want to participate in the community good.”
Checks written out to the JCC Passover Fund are being accepted at the Jewish Community Center, 6255 N. Santa Monica Blvd., Milwaukee, 53217, either in person or by mail.
Kosher food items will be accepted at various synagogues and other community buildings March 15-29, 2017.
Food will be distributed April 2, 2017, at the Jewish Home and Care Center, 1414 N. Prospect Ave., Milwaukee, with the help of 30 to 40 volunteers.
“I know this community will make it happen,” Kavalar said.
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About ‘ma’ot chittim’
Ma’ot chittim (“wheat money”) refers to the obligation to help the poor to cover their Passover expenses.
Monetary donations to keep the local Ma’ot Chittim drive going strong locally are being accepted at the Harry & Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center, 6255 N. Santa Monica Blvd., Milwaukee 53217. Make checks payable to JCC Passover Fund.