Kosher Meals for Those in Need

From left: Tov Pizza owner Ronnie Rosenbluth, Roxanne Bagby, event planner Isaac Schleifer, Lisa Johnson and Sally Austin. Bagby, Johnson and Austin are program directors.
From left: Tov Pizza owner Ronnie Rosenbluth, Roxanne Bagby, event planner Isaac Schleifer, Lisa Johnson and Sally Austin. Bagby, Johnson and Austin are program directors.

Bnos Yisroel of Baltimore is one of many locations hosting a summer lunch program during the week, where children and teens are invited to enjoy a free lunch. Although the city has been running the program for many years, this summer Bnos Yisroel will accommodate the city’s Jewish population with a kosher menu. The program, which started July 13, will run through Aug. 21 from noon to 1 p.m.

The program, participation in which is not income-based, is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Maryland State Department of Education and administered locally by the Baltimore Housing Office of Community Services. It is an extension of the National School Lunch Program, which provides eligible children free and nutritious breakfasts and lunches during the school year. While Bnos Yisroel is not directly involved with the ongoing program, it has agreed to make its space available to provide lunches during the summer while school is not in session.

“We sent out a flier about the program through [the Cheswolde Neighborhood Association] and people called and asked if there is a kosher option,” said Isaac Schleifer, one of the primary coordinators for the event at the Bnos Yisroel location. “We asked the Department of Housing if they have a kosher program; they said it’s never been requested before.”

At that point, Schleifer began making arrangements for a kosher menu but immediately hit a roadblock. The cost for the kosher caterer that the city uses exceeded the cost allotted per child, set by the city.

“We called around to the different stores, and the only one who could accommodate the price was Tov Pizza,” said Schleifer.

Schleifer approached Ronnie Rosenbluth, owner of Tov Pizza, and asked if he could handle catering the event for the summer. Rosenbluth had only one condition for his participation.

“If Mrs. Wetstein does it with me, then I’m in,” said Rosenbluth.

Sara Wetstein, who agreed to volunteer with the summer program and be the site manager for Bnos Yisroel, also helps run the National School Lunch Program during the year at other locations. Her job is to ensure each site follows the rules and requirements as well as keep track of everyone coming in for lunch.

“Today was a lot more than we expected,” said Wetstein, on-site at Bnos Yisroel last Friday. “We have a little over 500 [kids].”

Children attended with their parents, and many others were accompanied by camp counselors.

Because the program is not income-based, the children who participate come from all different backgrounds, but Schleifer believes the majority of the kids are those with the greatest need.

“The kids here would otherwise not be able to afford lunch,” said Schleifer.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 24 percent of people in Baltimore City lived below the poverty line from 2009 to 2013.

Ahavas Yisrael, a charitable organization whose mission is to provide food, shelter, clothing and basic living needs for needy Baltimore residents, also partnered with Schleifer and Tov Pizza to help circulate the event to the families they assist.

“There are many hundreds of Jewish families who are struggling, and organizations like Jewish Community Services and Ahavas Yisrael help these poor and needy families,” said Eli Schlossberg, an executive trustee of Ahavas Yisrael. “Anytime you can bring nutritious meals to children — and especially in the summer when they’re not in school — we feel it will get a very good reception.” JT

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