Photo Credit: COJO Flatbush
Volunteers began packing cartons of food early in the morning and continued through the day and into the night.

COJO Flatbush held its annual Chanukah Food Distribution two days before the lighting of the first candle last week, and spirits were notably high among staffers and volunteers who, as one put it, were “able to close out a historically difficult year with the deep satisfaction that comes from helping others.”

The wide assortment of food products, delivered to nearly 300 local families, included everyday staples as well as items specifically for Chanukah: chicken, gefilte fish, breakfast cereal, leben, assorted cheeses, rice, eggs, tuna, grape juice, apple juice, canned pineapple, flour, oil, onions, potatoes, apple sauce, and – of course – chocolate coins.

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Just as important as the provision of the food itself, said COJO Flatbush Director of Social Services Shulamis Shapiro – whose tireless coordination and oversight have come to define every COJO food distribution – is “concern for the dignity of the recipients. Discretion is maintained at every step of the procedure, eliminating the need to awkwardly come forward for assistance or wait on public lines at a food bank. We contact families that participate in our programs during the year, and rabbis and communal leaders provide us with names of families they know of who are in need – a considerably higher number this year due to the economic fallout from COVID-19.”

On Distribution Day, she added, volunteers pack and transport the items in boxes provided by a local supermarket, giving the deliveries the appearance of a regular grocery drop-off.

COJO Flatbush CEO Louis Welz acknowledged some initial concern about the viability of large-scale food distributions when the scope of the COVID pandemic became evident early last March. But careful adherence to guidelines and regulations, coupled with what he called the “amazing dedication of our partners, donors, staffers, and volunteers,” ensured that the distributions would continue uninterrupted. The Chanukah Distribution marked the fourth such event since the onset of COVID.

In addition to recognizing the work of volunteers from the community and COJO staff members, Welz expressed special appreciation to City Council Members Chaim Deutsch and Kalman Yeger; NYC Department of Youth and Community Development; Met Council on Jewish Poverty CEO David Greenfield; Brooklyn Community Board 14 District Manager Shawn Campbell; Glatt Mart President Dov Bauman; Nosson and Rivkie Shapiro; Rabbis Shmuel Wallerstein, Pinchas Wallerstein, Aaron Groner, Tzvi Wallerstein, and Yitzy Heller from Yeshiva Ohr Yitzchok and Mesivta Tiferes Shmuel; COJO Flatbush staffers; and community activist Dovi Zeitlin.

Welz also thanked the New York City Sanitation Department for its expedited recyclable pickups – “the sheer volume of cartons and pallets is unimaginable if you haven’t seen it” – and praised the leadership and responsiveness of DSNY Brooklyn District 14 Superintendent Joseph Sciulara “for making sure that everything is properly taken care of after every distribution.”

To COJO Flatbush President Moshe Zakheim, the organization’s work serves as “both a reminder and a reflection of the lessons we learn from Chanukah, especially in a year like the one we’ve been through. Chanukah teaches us about overcoming daunting odds, fighting for justice with complete faith, and how even a small amount of light can illuminate the darkness.”

Indeed, with food for families via holiday distributions; a wide range of events and programs for seniors; adult education classes; summer youth employment; assistance with housing advocacy, tax preparation, and insurance-related issues; and much more, COJO Flatbush illuminates so many lives while fulfilling its organizational mandate even during the most challenging of times: Help Starts Here!

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