Rabbi launches free kosher food store in Squirrel Hill

As the coronavirus crisis exacerbated food insecurity for many members of the Jewish community, Rabbi Chezky Rosenfeld found that a need was not being fully met by other social service programs and agencies.

“A lot of the programs are limited to people of different demographics and with varying requirements,” Rosenfeld said. “I was contacted by different people who were in need or who knew other people in need.”

At the same time, other families with a surplus of food were contacting Rosenfeld to see if he could find a use for it before the food spoiled.

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So the rabbi began to pick up food left on the porches and deliver it to those in need. Eventually, he said, he decided to set up “a central space where people can bring it all.”

The result is a free pop-up kosher store in the heart of Squirrel Hill, located in the former Shabbox space at 2118 Murray Avenue, next to the Milky Way kosher restaurant.

Because the pop-up space has a fridge and freezer, Rosenfeld can now include fresh items that he couldn’t store before, as well as foods that won’t be used immediately.

Most important to Rosenfeld, the pop-up location allows community members to maintain their dignity while collecting their food. In fact, the rabbi has a habit of not being there when the free store is open.

“I want this to be really open,” he said. “I don’t want anyone to feel like someone is watching who’s coming and taking things.”

The store does not have a listing, registration, or income requirements, and food is available to anyone who needs it.

Although the store offers free kosher food, Rosenfeld said he has no plans to compete with other services and organizations, like the Squirrel Hill Food Pantry. In addition to responding to different demographics, Rosenfeld said, it doesn’t have the Food Pantry capacity and it doesn’t offer the kind of long-term solutions available from other charities and Jewish community organizations.

The food available in the pop-up store is a mix of fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy products, and prepackaged meals like pizza and lasagna.

Volunteers check donations to make sure they are kosher.

“And obviously we only take closed packages,” Rosenfeld said. “We don’t take things that are made in people’s kitchens.”
In addition to private donors, Rosenfeld said he received a grant from the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, which helped secure the location of the pop-up store, as well as the equipment.

The money comes from the Federation’s COVID-19 relief fund, said Adam Hertzman, Federation director of marketing. To date, the Federation has distributed over $ 9.1 million from this fund.

“Emergency aid is targeted for emerging needs,” Hertzman said. “A pop-up food corner was something the relief committee saw that met an emerging need in the community. ”

The Federation and its recipient agencies, including Jewish Family and Community Services and the Squirrel Hill Food Pantry, are seeing far more than the average number of families in need due to the pandemic, Hertzman said. The Federation can coordinate agencies to respond to needs quickly and efficiently, he added, citing, as an example, an emergency relief grant to purchase a van shared by JFCS and Hillel JUC that is used for food deliveries.

“This is built on decades of collaboration, communication and trust building, which I would like to say the Federation has played a key role in,” said Hertzman. “It is because of this that we have been able to meet some of the COVID relief needs so strongly. “

Rosenfeld said he doesn’t have long-term plans for the free store, but intends to keep it open for at least the summer.

“I have been approached by people who have asked me to keep it open during the summer holidays, where there is a greater need,” he said. “We use a lot of food during this time. We’ll see. Right now I have it planned until the end of August. We’ll take it from there.

The free pop-up shop is open Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. PJC

David Rullo can be contacted at [email protected]

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