Mariam S. grew up in a loving kosher home in Columbia. Now at 78, she lives alone in Midwood and finds it difficult to walk, shop, and cook due to several health issues. That is why she is so grateful to receive kosher food delivered to her home everyday from an organization named JASA, a non-profit agency aimed at serving older adults. JASA (Jewish Association Serving the Aging) is the beneficiary of the UJA Federation of New York, and serves 43,000 seniors of all ethnicities and cultures. Created in 1968, JASA aims to enrich the lives of the aging in the New York metropolitan area so they can remain in the community with dignity and autonomy. The home deliveries are just one of the many services it provides and is critical to its mission.
Aside from providing support to seniors who depend on meals, the home delivery service is also a great way for seniors to make a new friend. Oftentimes, the delivery person is the only person a senior will see that day. Mariam looks forward to getting deliveries every day from Lionel Fardin.
“He is very good. He never complains and always asks me how I am.” Mariam tells me.
Lionel enjoys making the deliveries as much as the seniors enjoy getting them. His philosophy is to treat every senior like he or she is his grandma or grandpa. When he arrives with the boxes he always finds time to chat and likes to develop relationships with everyone he delivers to. A main topic of conversation usually concerns the weather. “They always ask why I’m not dressed warm enough,” Lionel quips.
These relationships allow him to really help out his clients when times are difficult. During Hurricane Sandy one of his seniors found herself without electricity – no lights, or working elevator. She told Lionel not to make his regular deliveries. He insisted, and she did not go hungry. Another time a senior’s husband passed away and she did not wish to continue the program, but Lionel convinced her otherwise, pleading: “Please don’t let this affect you, we don’t want you to suffer.”
There are so many stories of seniors in need who benefit immensely from JASA’s kosher delivery service. Zelda is a senior who has lived in Rockaway for forty years. She, like Mariam was brought up in a kosher home, so the meals she receives bring back so many wonderful memories. She loves the gefilte fish and stuffed cabbage the JASA delivery truck brings to her. Living on social security and being homebound, Zelda doesn’t get out much as she used to and is very grateful for both the familiar food and the company. Irving is another grateful senior who eagerly anticipates visits form his driver, Jean. Irving is a Queens resident who has no family. He also has mobility issues that make it difficult for him to cook.
JASA is dedicated to seniors like Mariam, Zelda, and Irving. It works tirelessly to ensure that no one is denied a meal. Every client is asked to make a small contribution, but it is made clear that they should only pay if they can, and what is comfortable for them. Last year in Brooklyn alone, JASA delivered about three thousand meals a day, seventy percent of them kosher.
When the JASA delivery trucks arrive on Friday there is always a double portion for Shabbos. There are also special Yom Tov meals. This past Rosh Hashanah seniors received a special meal of brisket, apples and honey and challah. On Pesach, the meals come with a side of matzah. In this way, the food nourishes their bodies and souls as well.
In addition, on Pesach, JASA arranges a seder and transports homebound seniors from all over New York to participate. It is an interactive process with the seniors taking turns lighting candles, reading from the hagadah, and asking the four questions.
JASA has the largest concentration of kosher consumers in its district. With the many different services it provides, it aims to treat the whole person. Elaine Rockoff, JASA’s Director of Community Based Programs, explains that the meal delivery program is a great way of finding out other needs that senior may have. When seniors ask for meals, social workers will investigate other needs that are not being met. One of the many attributes that makes JASA unique is the holistic approach it takes, with a formal collaboration between social services and health care. This “marriage” of program elements puts it on the cutting edge of re-thinking how core services are provided to the senior population.