The Rambam taught that we are commanded to emulate Hashem. There are so many quotes in Tanach that illustrate how Hashem takes care of the poor and needy. It says in T’hilim 146, “He performs justice for the oppressed. He gives bread to the hungry.” In Mishlei, it states, “Blessed is he who is generous to the poor.” T’hilim 112 states, “Widely distributed charity he dispersed to the needy.” Leviticus says, “And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of the vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner.”
Clearly, Hashem wants us to help the poor among us with their material needs. That is what Tomchei Shabbos is doing 24/7. Deliveries are made every Wednesday night, and there is a streamlined, flawless system for volunteers who come and take their boxes for their numbered route. Drivers check in at the computer and sometimes new locations can be added to a route. There is a steady flow of volunteers into the Tomchei Shabbos headquarters in Kew Gardens on Wednesday evening. Jews of every stripe and age are there aiding their fellow brothers and sisters. Many of these distinguished volunteers have been doing this job for decades. “It’s the best place. It’s the happiest. Everyone is warm and friendly here,” one volunteer noted. There’s also delicious cholent and kugel available for volunteers to enjoy on their way in or out.
There is much more going on behind the scenes. Hashem must surely be smiling when he looks down at that Tomchei Shabbos headquarters. On Tuesdays, volunteers come any time of day to package fruit. On Wednesday mornings, a regular group of volunteers, headed by Mrs. Elisa Merlmestein, come to package the challahs and breads. Volunteers come during the week to construct thousands of boxes, and volunteers stay Wednesday evening after all the deliveries are out to restock and set up new boxes.
When you step inside, you see floor-to-ceiling shelves packed with labeled boxes ready for delivery. Tomchei Shabbos tries to accommodate people’s needs. Boxes are packed according to family size. Special items are added for Yom Tov. This year, there is a stocked refrigerator with cold cuts for Yom Tov. Perishables like chickens and fresh fruits and vegetables are given out at the door as people are leaving with their deliveries, in order to keep everything fresh.
Staples like onions, eggs, potatoes, chicken, grape juice, challah, gefilte fish, and cake are given out for Shabbos. Over 350 families receive Tomchei Shabbos deliveries.
Often, the volunteers develop relationships with the people to whom they deliver. With some older people, it’s a meaningful visit they look forward to each week.
Around Pesach time, large quantities, like ten dozen eggs, were given out, along with cases of grape juice. “You can’t imagine how much was distributed,” a volunteer shared.
This writer experienced driving for Tomchei Shabbos at one time, and it was rewarding knowing that one was helping people to have a beautiful, delicious Shabbos, freeing them from the worry of not having what they needed for Shabbos.
Tomchei Shabbos of Queens delivers to people in Forest Hills, Kew Gardens Hills, Kew Gardens, Jackson Heights, Flushing, Bayside, Jamaica, Sunnyside, Hillcrest, and Rego Park, as well as parts of Nassau County, such as Great Neck, Roslyn, and Little Neck.
They deliver wherever Jews need help. It is an all-volunteer organization with a focus to help people who need kosher food.
Tomchei Shabbos of Queens was started in the 1970s in Forest Hills by Mr. Jacob Schmidt, Mr. Itzy Laub, and Mr. Tzvi Weiss. Each family took responsibility. The numbers of those in need increased, so they moved to a central location. Mr. Shimmy Pelman started driving in 1979. At that time, there were 40 families receiving Tomchei Shabbos of Queens. As more families asked for help, they needed more drivers. In 1984, Mr. Pelman was elected President of Tomchei Shabbos. Tomchei Shabbos of Queens moved from people’s garages to a real warehouse in Kew Gardens ten years ago, and this gave the organization the ability to take care of 400 families.
The Katz family in Kew Gardens is very actively involved in running the day-to-day operations of Tomchei Shabbos. Adina Feldman actively manages the weekly driver schedule and handles school group packing.
There are currently around 300-400 volunteers who pack, order, and deliver the food. The work begins on Tuesday night, getting packages ready for families in need. It’s really an amazing place, with stacks of food and boxes, and so many busy, happy volunteers.
By Susie Garber