“Donna”* is already excited to receive the food hamper that will be delivered to her door about a week before Passover begins on April 10. The food hamper, she knows, will be packed with matzot, assorted other kosher-for-Passover foods and a variety of fresh produce that will make it possible for her to properly commemorate the Festival of Freedom with the rest of the Jewish community.
But for Donna, the hamper represents much more than the groceries it contains.
“It means so much to me,” she says. “I can’t believe that people care enough to do this for me. I feel so loved and so special.”
The caring people who Donna is so grateful to are the staff of Jewish Child and Family Service and the donors and volunteers behind its annual Passover Assistance program, also known as Ma’ot Chitim.
This program provides Winnipeg Jews who are marginalized, isolated, ill, or lacking financial resources, with the means to observe and celebrate the holiday.
“Ma’ot Chitim essentially helps people experience the holiday and share with their family,” JCFS Executive Director Al Benarroch says. ”It brings the spirit of the holiday to people.”
The success of the Ma’ot Chitim program, which has been a mainstay of JCFS for decades, relies on a few weeks of fundraising just prior to the spring festival. Funds collected during this time are used to purchase food items for the hampers and, in some cases, to subsidize registration at community Seders.
Last year, volunteers from JCFS and other community groups prepared and delivered 125 Passover food hampers to 257 Jewish people in Winnipeg. They are expecting to deliver at least this many this April. Many of the recipients are individuals and families who only approach the agency for assistance this one time of year. Others, like Donna, are long time clients of JCFS.
Now in her 30's, Donna became involved with the agency when it stepped in to provide her with safety from an unsafe home environment when she was a teenager. Currently unable to work and living on social assistance, Donna continues to meet regularly with a JCFS social worker who provides her with guidance and support as she deals with social anxiety and other challenges related to past trauma.
It was this social worker who first suggested to Donna that she add her name to the list of Passover food hamper recipients four years ago. He knew how much she would appreciate the content and the gesture.
“The volunteers were so kind when they came to the door,” Donna says. “They were so pleasant and opening up the hamper was like opening up a birthday present.”
The Passover Assistance program is one of many services that JCFS facilitates to ensure that all community members feel connected, appreciated and valued. The program is a perfect example of the agency’s mission in action – Strengthening lLives in Keeping with Jewish Values.
* Donna is not the client’s real name. She was interviewed and this information is printed with her permission. JCFS respects the privacy of all clients and never uses or shares a client’s name without permission.