GBMC to open kosher pantry for Jewish patients' families

Greater Baltimore Medical Center's new kosher pantry, which has a door key code in Hebrew, is set to open Sept. 6.
Greater Baltimore Medical Center's new kosher pantry, which has a door key code in Hebrew, is set to open Sept. 6. (Courtesy Photo/GBMC)

Greater Baltimore Medical Center will open a new kosher pantry on Sept. 6 to serve observant Jewish families of patients in the hospital, spokesman John Lazarou said.

The 290-square-foot room will have separate appliances for meat and dairy, two sinks, seating and perishable and nonperishable foods that families who keep kosher can access for free, according to a press release.


“It is a place of respite, a place of refreshment,” said the Rev. J. Joseph Hart, director of spiritual support services at GBMC. “It’s a place of nourishment, both spiritual and physical.”

A grand opening ceremony for the room near the hospital’s main entrance will be held at 3 p.m. Sept. 6.

The Jewish community has been an “integral part” of GBMC since its founding in 1965, Hart said. The idea for a pantry took shape starting about five years ago, he said, when GBMC started getting feedback from the Orthodox Jewish community, saying more of them would choose GBMC if it had a kosher option for families.

“Our desire was to make provisions so that they would feel more at home and cared for at GBMC,” Hart said.

Hart declined to say how much the room’s construction cost.

“At GBMC, we recognize that we have large numbers of Orthodox and kosher-observant Jews who come to our hospital as patients or visitors,” said John Chessare, the hospital’s president and CEO, in a press release. “Having an on-premises kosher food pantry designed to meet the needs of our Observant Jewish patients and their families is a breakthrough for not only our hospital, but also for the many families being treated at our medical institution.”

The pantry will be stocked by Bikur Cholim, a nonprofit that works to address the needs of Jewish patients and their families.

Rabbi Pimchos Rabinowitz, the organization’s executive director, said GBMC’s pantry will be the Baltimore-based organization’s sixth. Bikur Cholim runs a pantry at Johns Hopkins Hospital, three at Sinai Hospital and one at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

The organization stocks each pantry not only with kosher food, but also with reading materials, tea and coffee, prayer books and cellphone chargers.

Though hospital patients can access kosher food, Rabinowitz said families often cannot, and the pantry fills the need. Food includes kosher snacks, microwaveable meals and staples like yogurt and cans of tuna, Rabinowitz said.

“Anything we think people might need on a daily basis, we try to keep in the pantry,” Rabinowitz said. “It gives them an opportunity to rejuvenate, to help their family member get well faster.”

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Each locked pantry opens with a Hebrew code posted on the outside of the door, with the assumption that “anybody who eats kosher food knows the Hebrew alphabet,” Rabinowitz said.

Though Bikur Cholim does not keep track of how many people use the pantries across the Baltimore area, based on the amount of food it restocks each week Rabinowitz estimated the number to be in the thousands.

Rabinowitz said GBMC’s new pantry reflects the fact that the hospital is “up-and-coming,” and observant Jewish patients are choosing it more often.


Hart said in addition to the kosher pantry, GBMC has a spiritual support suite with a hospitality room for clergy and a chapel for prayer and respite.

Hart said the hospital periodically offers food options that follow other religious guidelines, such as halal food for Muslims, but that those requests currently are rare. “Once those numbers grow, we can be more accommodating,” he said.

Rabinowitz said he was impressed with the way the GBMC chaplaincy office has reached out to the Jewish community and “all communities in general.”

“They really proactively try to foresee everything that someone might need,” he said.