BROWN DEER – Jewish Family Services has increased the frequency of its Mobile Food Pantry, in an effort to meet the needs of the 330 residents of JFS Housing, where the average family income is about $18,000 per year.
“There is a growing need,” said Daniel Fleischman, vice president of housing and residential services with Jewish Family Services. “This was from resident feedback on their own food security issues.”
The JFS Housing apartments occupy plots of land just west of Highway 57 in Brown Deer. They’re comprised of 96 units at Deerwood Crossing and 114 units at Bradley Crossing and Weinberg Residences. Both sets of units are for low to middle income families, with the Deerwood units aimed at seniors and the Bradley and Weinberg units reserving some space for those with mental illness or disability in the family.
“It’s very humbling because you’re giving someone sustenance,” said John Yopps, president and CEO of Jewish Family Services. He had just returned on Dec. 7 to Jewish Family Services offices at 1300 N. Jackson St., after spending some time volunteering with the Mobile Food Pantry in Brown Deer.
“They’re very respectful. They’re very friendly,” he said. “It’s very rewarding. It’s hard to explain the kind of feeling you get from helping someone to that degree.”
Past and present
Several years ago former CEO of Jewish Family Services and JFS Housing – two closely linked organizations – Sylvan Leabman was looking for food for his residents. Government food assistance had been cut, he said. When he learned about mobile food pantries from Feeding America, it was an ah-ha moment and the JFS Mobile Food Pantry started in October of 2014.
As new construction added 54 units to Bradley Crossing in 2015, the number of children increased. Need grew with more residents, but that doesn’t account for all of the increased need, according to Leabman. Declining government assistance is also to blame, he said.
The Mobile Food Pantry was held four times in 2016. “Our residents are using this to get by so doing this quarterly wasn’t really enough,” Fleischman said. “It was too spread out,” agreed Susie Gruenberg, manager of volunteer services for Jewish Family Services; starting in 2017, the frequency was increased to seven times per year.
Jewish Family Services pays a fee for each Mobile Food Pantry visit. The fee is expected to increase this year. Jewish Family Services will not discontinue or diminish the Mobile Food Pantry service, according to Fleischman.
How it works
The Mobile Food Pantry is mobile because the pantry is brought to the residents of JFS Housing, mostly to the community room at Bradley Crossing.
The day usually starts with Fleischman and volunteer Carol Glaser thanking about 25 volunteers and giving them some direction.
On Nov. 9, volunteer Sara Lubar of Glendale filled in for Glaser, speaking to the volunteers as scores of residents waited in the nearby lobby for a Feeding America truck to arrive.
“There will be about eight items that will be part of the pantry today,” Lubar told the volunteers. “We just had signs go up.”
The signs posted to the walls laid out the rules for both volunteers at food stations and for the residents who visit each station.
“Yogurt,” one sign read. “1 case per household.”
“Whole chicken,” read another, allotting “1 chicken for 1-2 people,” “2 chickens for 3-4 people” and “3 chickens for 5+ people.”
Thus, the pantry allows people to select their food, much like at a supermarket. “We try every single time to provide people with dignity and respect,” Gruenberg said.
“It’s very well organized,” said volunteer Carol Richheimer, a member of the Congregation Beth Israel Ner Tamid social action committee, as she waited for food at her station. “It’s really neat.”
Volunteers met the Feeding America truck and its 4,000 pounds of food outside the Bradley Crossing building entrance and started carrying it in, past the waiting residents. That’s when volunteers at the stations got to work. Richheimer tore plastic off 18-unit packs of fruit-flavored water. When residents came to her station, she gave it out.
For residents who needed help, a volunteer was there to push a cart and take it into the family’s apartment. Around 25 volunteers typically come per food pantry, serving about 175 people each time.
Some come as individuals, others as part of an organization’s effort. On Nov. 9, several synagogues were represented, plus Associated Bank and JLA Architects, among others. Some volunteers tend to keep coming back.
There’s a “camaraderie,” Lubar said.
“Bradley and Deerwood serve very low income individuals. Many of them are relying solely on benefits to get by,” Fleischman said.
“One of the great stresses in life for poor people is sometimes they have to make choices,” Leabman said – do you eat, buy meds or go to the doctor? The Mobile Food Pantry ensures they’ll at least get some food.
“They’re getting nourishing, healthful food,” Yopps said. “It’s not fast food.”
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How to help
If you or your organization are interested in volunteering with the Mobile Food Pantry at Bradley Crossing in Brown Deer, contact Susie Gruenberg, manager of volunteer services for Jewish Family Services at 414-225-1390 or SGruenberg@JFSMilw.org.