This message has 830 words and will take about 4 minutes to read.
As the community’s central planning, convening and fundraising organization, we are in the unique position of being able to identify and invest in areas of long-term strategic importance to our community—and to bring together the partners who will do the work and create the change we need to ensure our community continues to thrive.
This is of particular importance in our community because of the region’s extremely high cost of living and the particularly acute impact this has on low-income families and the working poor. With the percentage of Lower Mainland Jews who are living in poverty projected to increase to 18.1% by 2021, we need to continue to address the long-term impact of affordability—now compounded by COVID-19-related job loss and income reduction.
These issues have a direct impact on our local Jewish community’s ability to remain strong and stable. When community members can’t afford to participate in Jewish programs or provide their children with a Jewish education because all of their income is spent on the essentials, such as food and rent, our community is negatively impacted.
This is why we are committed to leading the development and implementation of a holistic and coordinated response to food insecurity. Our work began with the Affordability Summit, which resulted in the Food Security Task Force that we led jointly with Jewish Family Services (JFS).
This collaborative approach resulted in exceptional, and ultimately prescient, work by the Task Force, led by co-chairs, Renée Katz and Stan Shaw. Their mandate was to recommend a community-wide food security strategy, which they did in their December 2018 report, which you can read here. The Task Force took a fresh look at food security strategies that will ensure dignity and promote healthy choices for people in need, while raising awareness about available and accessible healthy food options.
The goals of this new vision were to be able to increase the number of people in need who had access to food, diversify the food options available, and deliver these services in a holistic and coordinated manner. To achieve these goals, the Task Force recommended the establishment of a Jewish food centre, where community members would not only have access to healthy and affordable food, but would also be able to receive a range of services without having to leave the building.
With funds received from the Diamond Foundation and the Jewish Community Foundation, we were fortunate to contract with food security consultant, Ilana Labow, to develop a plan of action. Over the past year, Ilana has worked with a variety of stakeholders, including food bank volunteers and recipients, as well as professionals working in food centres across North America to identify the best approach for our community. We look forward to sharing the final Food Centre Report with you in the coming weeks.
One of the unintended but very impressive outcomes of the Task Force’s report has been how quickly JFS and other community agencies and synagogues were able to ramp up to meet the dramatic increase in the need for food during COVID-19. Our community has gone from providing food to approximately 600 people every second week to over 1,300 people on a weekly basis.
Every major challenge we face brings an equally substantial opportunity. The opportunity to rethink and reimagine something so fundamentally important and broadly impactful as food security comes along perhaps once in a generation. It is not a simple issue to address, but we are now years into the work, and, as a result of our planning, our collaborations, and the work of the Task Force, we are in the enviable position of being ahead of the curve.
There is still more work to be done, and we will be keeping you informed as we move forward toward an implementation strategy.
The work that we do today will one day be picked up and carried on by the next generation, so we want to shine a light on another initiative.
The Youth In Transition committee brings together representatives of the camps, youth programs, day schools, JFS and mental health specialists to address issues related to the health and well-being of our youth, and to find common approaches and programs to respond. We want to hear from young people between the ages of 13 to 24 years about the programs and services they would like to see. Click here for the survey we have designed, and please share it with those you know.
On a personal note, two young women from our community, Becca Schwenk and Madison Slobin, struck out on their own to organize the cooking and delivery of nearly 100 homemade meals to members of the local Black community. Rachel and I were happy to participate in their initiative by cooking a meal.
Last, but certainly not least, we want to say mazel tov to all the students who are graduating. Whether it was preschool, kindergarten, grade seven or grade 12, we know this grad wasn’t what they expected, but teachers, parents and students embraced the change thrust upon them by COVID-19 and made it special nonetheless. We wish them all the best.
Ezra S. Shanken
Chief Executive Officer