Yom Tov preparations were in full swing this past Tuesday afternoon at the Lev Aharon Community Food Pantry in Kew Gardens Hills, operated as a joint venture between Met Council and Chazaq. The distribution was historic in that it welcomed New York City’s Comptroller Brad Lander and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams to the Queens neighborhood for their first visits. Often represented by their Jewish liaisons Pinny Hikind and Simon Sebag, respectively, this circulation allowed their reps to join legislators ahead of Rosh HaShanah.
Evidenced by the client queue that snaked well around the corner of Main Street, it was obvious that the demand for food is real in Queens. Despite the overwhelming need, widely stemming from inflation, Met Council and Chazaq stretched themselves as far as they can to provide the crucial foods for the holiday season. In all, Chazaq is just 1 of roughly 120 pantries serviced by the Met Council warehouse, coordinated by Benjamin Zaientz, Agency Relations Manager, who serves as the liaison between the food warehouse, data department, and pantry leadership. New this Rosh HaShanah is an expansion to the Jewish community just outside of the state’s capital in Albany.
“We are expecting to serve well over 300 clients this chag,” explained Aviv Simantov, the pantry’s director. “An eclectic choice of holiday staples was arranged for pre-holiday drive. The list is highlighted by challah rolls, KJ Poultry chicken, and Kedem grape juice. It also included kitchen essentials like eggs, carrots, apples, barley soup mix, canned corn, mandarin oranges, tea biscuits, chickpeas, flour, rice, and of course honey.”
According to data released by Met Council, 173,000 lbs. of food was distributed from the 72nd Avenue pantry this year. Those weekly distributions often included protein staples like salmon, chicken, or eggs, and often contained fresh produce and vegetables. This holiday season, a whopping 60 cases of grape juice will flow through the Chazaq pantry doors.
Aviv operates with a steady stream of volunteers who assist in his community service efforts. However, the Jamaica Estates resident is blessed to have his own mother, Aliza, join him weekly. “Giving back at the Chazaq pantry is the highlight of my week. But spending quality time with my son is irreplaceable,” explained Mrs. Simantov. I enjoy encountering new faces and seeing their grins turn to smiles empowering me with the strength necessary to return week after week.”
Queens is home to a diverse immigrant community which unfortunately was accustomed to breadlines in their old countries. However, their experiences were fraught with negativity, as food was often sparse and availability was not ensured. Met Council and Chazaq have mastered changing this mentality with their clientele, assuring that they will not run out of food, and everyone who is a victim of food insecurity will be allotted a fair portion.
This distribution saw continued activity from elected officials. State Senator John Liu, who will soon take over parts of the neighborhood including my own block, also made his first known visit to the Jewish community. He was joined by his Senate colleagues Hon. Leroy Comrie and Hon. Joseph P. Addabbo. Assembly Members Daniel Rosenthal, Chair of the Assembly Task Force on Food, Farm, and Nutrition Policy, and Andrew Hevesi made separate appearances. Rosenthal often deals with the largescale food needs in the state, and learned of the dire situation in the area together with City Council Member Lynn Schulman, District Leader Simon Pelman, and Alan Sherman, co-president of the Mid-Queens Community Council. Together with Yaakov Serle and Rabbi Yaniv Meirov, CEO, Chazaq, they passed out pre-packed parcels to waiting residents.
Council Member James Gennaro was out sick with coronavirus, but was represented by Henry Yam, his Chief of Staff, and Adam Suionov, his District Director. Also on hand were Rabbi Daniel Pollack, Jewish liaison to Rep. Grace Meng; Shane Miller, Communications Director for Council Member Sondra Ung; Adam Ullian, Advanced Schedule for the Public Advocate; Israel Peskowitz, Director of Governmental Affairs for Chazaq; Community Activist Mike Sidell, and Facia Class, who represented Democratic Candidate for US Congress Robert Zimmerman as his Political Director.
Appreciation is extended to Aaron Cyperstein, Associate Council and Director of External Affairs for Met Council, for his diligence in ensuring that the Jewish community of New York receives the exposure it deserves.
By Shabsie Saphirstein