The Food Column: Giving is something to give thanks for

Chabad Fox Chapel volunteers enjoying helping the hungry


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It's a relief program without the usual stipulations: No references. No forms to fill out. No proof of income.

Since May, Chabad Fox Chapel has been operating a kosher-food-distribution program, and anyone who asks for help can be served. Once a month, volunteers deliver boxes of nonperishables to households around the Pittsburgh region.

"I figure the hardest thing is to ask," Rabbi Ely Rosenfeld said. "If they're asking, then they really need help. I don't want to make them jump through any more hoops."

The only problem is that there already are more needy people than the center can serve, but Mr. Rosenfeld hopes that will change as volunteers and donors continue to come aboard.

And Thanksgiving (which this year dovetails with the start of Hanukkah) is when many families like to do something charitable as a way of showing their personal gratitude and helping those less fortunate. So this could be the right time to find those volunteers.

Chabad Fox Chapel began this program because "people didn't want to just write a check; they wanted to be part of the giving," Mr. Rosenfeld said. During the planning stages, he searched for like-minded organizations and discovered the Jewish Relief Agency in Philadelphia (jewishrelief.org). He said he's been told it's the largest volunteer organization in the entire city. He liked the sounds of that, so he asked for permission to export the "Jewish Relief Agency" name and concepts to Pittsburgh. In the interim, Chicago, Miami and two regions of New Jersey have developed nonprofits under the Jewish Relief Agency umbrella, as well.

One Sunday morning per month, volunteers at Chabad Fox Chapel spend just 90 minutes packing food boxes and delivering the goods. Thus far, the center has 20 families volunteering and 75 families receiving boxes, with more potential recipients on a waiting list. Volunteers deliver boxes to different areas of the city from the areas where they live so that anonymity is preserved for the recipients.

It's a workable model, Mr. Rosenfeld said, because "everyone wants to volunteer, but we all have busy lives." Most folks can spare 90 minutes on a Sunday morning, if not every month, then at least a few times out of the year.

"It's the family's mitzvah for the month; they can teach their kids how to give," he said.

Boxes typically contain items such as canned fruits and vegetables, pasta and pasta sauces. All food must be kosher. Food donations can be dropped off at the center, which is located at 1343 Old Freeport Road, or volunteers from the center can pick up larger donations. Families also can donate money, perhaps by sponsoring a box or two per month. Additional volunteers are also welcome to assist with packing; individuals or families need not be Jewish to be involved.

Last month, Mr. Rosenfeld called some of the newer volunteer families to follow up and ask for their feedback. He got rave reviews.

"People just said it was amazing to give a box to somebody who appreciates it. They have satisfaction in being part of it firsthand."

For more information, to request food boxes, or to volunteer or donate, contact Chabad Fox Chapel at 412-781-1800 or on the Web at chabadfc.com. Or go to jewishrelief.org and click on "Our Locations" and then "Pittsburgh."

Classes/demos

An 18th Century Thanksgiving: An 18th-century frontier feast will be prepared at the open hearth and bake oven while spectators look on. 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov.24, at the Oliver Miller Homestead in South Park. $2 admission.

Children's Gingerbread Class: Children will decorate their own gingerbread houses under the direction of pastry chef James Wroblewski. 10:30 a.m. Dec. 14 in the Grand Ballroom of the Fairmont, Downtown. $59 per child includes materials, instruction, apron, holiday refreshments for children and their parents, and a gingerbread house to take home. Reservations: 412-773-8911.

Dinners

Casino & Vino: Annual wine dinner hosted by CREW Pittsburgh, the area's business organization for women in commercial real estate. 6 to 9:30 p.m. tonight at Rivers Casino (Monongahela/Ohio Rooms). $70 for members; $85 for nonmembers. crewpittsburgh.org.

Free Thanksgiving Meal for Families: Noon to 3 p.m. Saturday at CityReach North Boroughs Church, 1000 California Ave., Avalon. 412-477-4939.

Breakfasts

Pancakes for a Purpose: Pancake breakfast and nonperishable food drive. 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 23, at St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church, Sewickley. $6 for adults; $3 for kids; free for children ages 3 and under. 412-741-8840.

Breakfast with Santa: Pictures with Santa, holiday games, arts and crafts, and breakfast. 9 a.m. Nov. 30 at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort. $35 for ages 5 and up; $20 for ages 2 to 4. 1-866-344-6957.


Rebecca Sodergren: pgfoodevents@hotmail.com or on Twitter @pgfoodevents.

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