The Jewish Community Pantry, which serves central city Milwaukee and anyone in the Jewish community in need of food, has been shifting its operations in recent months in response to the risks presented by COVID-19.
The pantry is a project of the Harry & Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center and Women’s Philanthropy of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation. It’s part of the Hunger Task Force network of pantries operating throughout greater Milwaukee, each with its own geographic area.
Though the Jewish Community Pantry offers kosher food to those who need it, most of its clients live in central city ZIP codes and are not part of the Jewish community. It is one of the largest pantries in the Milwaukee area.
Before COVID-19 crept into Wisconsin, the Jewish Community Pantry had clients visiting its facility, at 2900 W. Center St., Milwaukee, to pick out the food they wanted.
“That was just was too much exposure and too many people in one space and a host of other issues,” said Jewish Community Pantry Director Heidi L. Gould. “Our number one priority is keeping our volunteers and our customers safe.”
At first, the pantry developed social distancing criteria for shopping inside.
Then, they tried having people wait outside, six feet apart, but it’s hard to make sure people do that, Gould said.
Then, about six weeks ago, “We pivoted again and adapted and created a drive-through,” Gould said. Cars now wait in line instead of people, and volunteers load food into the rear of each vehicle. No contact is needed.
Elderly volunteers have stepped back from the work because of the threat of COVID-19. Some of the work is more physical now, with items being loaded into cars, and the distribution relies heavily on JCC staff.
The number of clients hasn’t changed significantly, but there are new families, including restaurant workers who live in the central city, Gould said.
“Families are very grateful,” Gould said. “They’re grateful we’re still open right now.”
Beyond the JCC and the Federation, the Jewish Community Pantry receives support from the Hunger Task Force, the Northwestern Mutual Foundation, Milwaukee Empty Bowls and individual donors, among others.