"Many of us in the Jewish community come from immigrant backgrounds... my grandparents are all from Europe and they didn't have anything! We're all maybe a paycheck away from needing help."
Running a food pantry, especially around the holidays, is a big task. And Mona Cohen, Director of Community Services at the Jewish Community Food Pantry, can tell you that first hand,
“…even though it’s getting colder, we’re still not slowing down!” she explains, only feet away from hustle and bustle of the busy pantry, “Over the course of the year we’ll serve over 37,000 people with over 15,000 of them being children.”
And on this particular Thursday, as people are quickly scurrying from the bitter cold into the warmth of the pantry and as numbers are being taken and volunteers are hastily distributing food, a steep number like 37,000 almost seems low.
Found between the Sherman and Metcalfe Park communities, the Jewish Community Food Pantry has been serving the Milwaukee community for over forty years at 2900 W Center Street. And started by the Jewish Community Center (JCC) back in 1976, it actually was never meant to be a permanent resource in Milwaukee.
“It was set up as an emergency food pantry program that we thought wouldn’t be needed for more than a few years…. maybe there wouldn’t be hunger in the community any more and we could shut down. But guess what? We’re bigger than we ever were. So we’re still here doing what we think is important to do in the community.”
And yes, serving hundreds of thousand of people over the past forty years is a huge feat, but with the word ‘Jewish’ in the pantry’s name, they still get asked all the time, ‘Who is the pantry for? What if I’m not Jewish?’
“When you say ‘I’m with the Jewish Community Pantry,’ this is not a pantry for the Jewish community, this is a pantry for the general Milwaukee community… Probably 98-99% of our clients are not Jewish.”
We hope we treat everyone the way we would want to be treated... its our little part of trying to make things better.
In fact, being interfaith is one of the things they’re most proud of at this Jewish pantry. No questions are asked, no fingers are pointed… no matter what religion you practice, the pantry is open to all.
“Whether it’s December or February or May… we’re here. It’s just our little part of trying to make things better.”
And year-round they continue to practice that – regardless or race, gender or religion – no one should go hungry or unnoticed: a mindset we should all be standing behind.
“We hope we treat everyone that comes in the way we would want to be treated.”
The Jewish Community Food Pantry is located at 2900 W. Center Street in Milwaukee and is open every Thursday, as well as the third and fourth Sunday of each month. Hours and information on volunteering can be found at JCCMilwaukee.org. Listen to the full audio piece by clicking the podcast player above.