Two new streams of people and food are converging these days at the Kosher Food Pantry.
More and more needy families who observe strict Jewish dietary laws are seeking free food.
Jewish students at 30 schools are collecting food in the first organized campaign for the Pikesville pantry.
Volunteers like Henry and Pauline Hausdorff of Pickwick, Baltimore County, have been busy packing food lately but will get busier when the new drive, Hanukkah for the Hungry, kicks in with gifts from students.
Henry, 76, mixed jokes and philosophy recently as the Hausdorffs, in their sixth year as pantry packers, assembled the cans and boxes of corn, gefilte fish, pasta, instant potatoes and other items. Pauline, 74, smiled with the infinite patience of a wife of 52 years.
"How I met my wife? I was stationed in the Air Force in South Dakota," said Henry. "Course, the first thing you do is look for girls. I found Pauline. Easy. How many Jewish girls live in South Dakota?"
Henry said, "We have an expression, tikkun olam. That's a Hebrew expression for the caring and repairing and sustaining of the world. We're trying to do that here."
Marcia Greenfield, the pantry's coordinator, was delighted with the help and concerned at the need. "It's unbelievable -- people have come in droves in recent months for free groceries," she said. "Some people are two paychecks from disaster.
"Many people wrongly assume Jewish people cannot be poor people," said Greenfield, who is Jewish. "When I talk to Jewish students, they are shocked to learn there are people in their community who may be hungry for long periods. Hunger to these students is missing an ice cream or a snack."
The Hanukkah solicitation was the idea of Leslie Goldberg, who is community outreach chairman at Summit Park Elementary School in Summit Chase. Assisted by Barbara Scherr, she invited 50 Jewish preschools, day schools, day and religious schools to have their students run food drives just as synagogues have. The congregations gathered 20,000 pounds this fall.
"My goal is to let the children realize how fortunate they are to raise the children's awareness of real hunger and the pantry's work," Goldberg said.
About 30 schools are taking part. The drive ends Dec. 21, and food will be delivered as Hanukkah begins at sundown Dec. 23.
The extra food will be sorely needed, partly because of welfare reform legislation, said Greenfield, who is also associate director of volunteer services of Jewish Family Services.
The past two years, the pantry has given 350 to 400 bags of groceries monthly to about 150 families. Since August, when 384 bags were distributed, the count has risen: 457 in September, 489 in October, more than 500 in November. Many more bags will be given this month.
"People this year say their food stamps and SSI benefits have been cut off," she said.
Almost all recipients are Jewish, but no one in need is refused, Greenfield said.
"Some become unemployed, may have a child in college and go through their funds quickly. Or they have changed circumstances, such as a divorce or a costly illness. Or they are elderly and on a fixed income and even work but they can't make ends meet. Or they are single parents with low incomes. Or they come from out of state, find no job and, like one family, live in their car."
JFS' pantry is one aspect of an institution that traces its roots to 1856. Men began the Hebrew Benevolent Society to help the destitute, and women formed the Ladies Sewing Society to supply clothing for the needy.
Almost a century and a half later, food is still part of the service.
Greenfield says unless walk-ins have a one-time emergency request, first-timers are interviewed for their suitability for groceries and other aid. Some get bags for a week, two weeks or a month.
They pick up bags at 5750 Park Heights Ave., at offices of JFS, part of The Associated, an umbrella organization of Jewish agencies. The food, valued at about $30 a bag, costs the pantry about $22 at cut-rate prices. A bag may feed two people for one week, Greenfield said.
Kosher food is fit to be eaten according to Jewish dietary rules, or kashrut, based on rabbinical interpretation of Biblical law.
All nonkosher food donations are given to the nearby St. Ambrose Outreach Center.
Pantry volunteers make colorful centerpieces that are rented for celebrations such as bar and bat mitzvahs. Since 1994, they have brought in $65,000.
The pantry's expenses are expected to rise from $150,000 in 1996 to $180,000 this year.
Non-Jewish people and businesses also help. The Village Food Market in Pikesville is donating 5 percent of its proceeds Dec. 15.
Information, Greenfield, 410- 466-9200, Ext. 296 or Goldberg, 410-396-4474.
Pub Date: 12/10/97