JFS is still here for you as we move into the new year

Throughout the last few months since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Jewish Family Service of the Lehigh Valley has adapted quickly to continue serving our community safely. We’ve also sought out new ways to meet the new and growing needs of our clients.

Our Community Food Pantry is as busy as ever despite the limitations of contactless pick-ups. There is anticipated to be an even greater need for the pantry as unemployment rises due to the pandemic. According to The Morning Call, 166,000 Pennsylvanians have enrolled in the state’s food stamp program, a nearly 10% increase that officials say likely doesn’t reflect the full picture of those struggling to access food across the state.

“We are doing everything we can to prepare for additional clients,” said Debbie Zoller, executive director of JFS.

One recent supplement to the normal pantry offerings is a grant from the Dunkin’ Joy Foundation, which allowed JFS to give out gift cards to families with children. As school approaches, JFS hopes to also be able to distribute school supplies in addition to these gift cards.

While we are unable to accept donations of food right now due to safety concerns, monetary donations – including gift cards – are still gratefully accepted. If you would like to contribute to the food pantry for our High Holiday Food Drive, please visit jfslv.org/donate. You can indicate if you are affiliated with a synagogue on the donation form.

Additional grants from United Way and the Emergency Food and Shelter National Board Program allowed us to create an Emergency Financial Assistance Program (EFAP). Through the EFAP, we are able to offer one-time grants to those who are going through hardship due to the pandemic and are struggling with issues such as paying their rent or mortgage or with food insufficiency. If you or someone you know needs assistance, please find our application at jfslv.org/emergency or contact Rebecca Axelrod-Cooper at racooper@jfslv.org.

We’ve also rolled out a series of free webinars, starting with a three-part overview of how to cope with the pandemic, for adults, children and older adults. Our next webinar will take place on Aug. 6, featuring local leader David S. Jones, Sr., as he discusses identity, power and privilege and how to better foster understanding between communities. Register online and view all past webinars on our website.

Some of our volunteers have returned to help with the food pantry while practicing social distancing. We launched the Send-A-Card program and worked with Jewish Federation of the Lehigh Valley on the Heart 2 Heart project. Both programs were a tremendous effort to help the older adults in our community who are more isolated than ever due to COVID-19 remember that they are not forgotten. We’ve also had volunteers delivering groceries through our Shop Gap program. If you are interested in volunteering, contact Chelsea Karp at ckarp@jfslv.org.

On Nov. 8, we are proud to present The Great JFS FoodFestFaire. This will be an all-day virtual food festival, with videos posted throughout the day on our Facebook page, culminating in the JFS Food Pantry Throwdown, a Zoom event where local chefs will be judged on who can create the best signature dish from pantry items. Included with the price of a ticket is a one-of-a-kind cookbook published to accompany the event. All in the community are invited to submit a favorite vegetarian or dairy recipe to the cookbook. Ads and sponsorships are also available.

As we go forward into the new year, we will continue to offer as much as possible through technology, such as teletherapy and meetings and lectures over Zoom, and continuously innovate in every way we can. The pandemic challenges us to be innovative in order to provide meaningful services.