When you hear the words “food bank,” you likely see an assortment of canned goods being handed out with little fanfare. Perhaps you envision what the patrons or volunteers look like. No matter what your preconceived notions are, I wonder if you’ve imagined a “food bank” quite like the JFS Eastside Food Bank (ESFB).
In partnership with the Jewish Day School of Metropolitan Seattle (JDS), JFS has been serving people in the Crossroads neighborhood since 1993. 164 people were helped over the past year, and the majority of them were senior citizens who emigrated from the former Soviet Union. During the 2015-16 school year, JDS teacher Lynsey Burge and her third-graders volunteered at the ESFB, which is hosted in conjunction with the school.
The Jewish Day School practices an inquiry-based curriculum, and it was during their food and nutrition unit that Burge’s students decided they wanted to cultivate their own garden. However, the students’ ideas didn’t stop there. “They decided that they wanted to do a mitzvah and donate their harvest to the ESFB,” said Burge.
The garden was made up of mostly fast-to-grow items, such as radishes and carrots, which soon found their way into the ESFB. The students were enthusiastic and thoughtful throughout every phase of the project, sometimes in surprising ways. “They were always very mindful of respecting the food,” explains Burge, “taking care not to drop it and always handling it with clean hands.” Burge notes that this is deeply impressive for such a young group.
The surprises don’t stop there, though. Burge told me about a student named Caleb, who stepped up in a big way. “He was really trying to find what he was passionate about, and he found that in the ESFB work,” she says. Caleb took the project a step further, setting up his very own lemonade stand to raise money for the ESFB. The result? Caleb donated $18, which was enough for the ESFB staff to buy a 50-pound bulk bag of rice.
According to JFS Food Bank Manager Esther Magasis, Caleb’s contribution is just one of the ways Jewish Day School students help the program. The students help with bagging bulk product – like that rice – into consumer-friendly portions, which is in turn distributed at the ESFB. The volunteering done by the students is not just an obligatory mitzvah project, nor a simple “feel-good” opportunity: the hard work done by these eight- and nine-year-olds is of genuine service to the ESFB and its clients.
This community-involvement is just one part of what makes the JFS Eastside Food Bank so special. While some of its counterparts stock only non-perishables, JFS takes care to make sure that isn’t the case for its clients. Fresh, local produce is a common fixture. This is all part of the effort to ensure that patrons don’t have to compromise on either good nutrition or taste just to put food on the table.
The JFS Eastside Food Bank is a monthly pop-up, but Magasis says that a powerful sense of community is always present. It begins with the growing and the harvesting of the produce and continues with the distribution of those items, with love and care. The work of the students fills a true need in the community and provides meaningful opportunities for service, with a tangible application of Jewish values to boot.
By Aaron Alter
Aaron is a Seattle-native who will be starting his junior year at the University of Oregon this fall.