GREAT BARRINGTON — On Sunday morning, Sept. 19, while many in the community were competing in the Josh Billings RunAground, 145 other local citizens gathered at the Berkshire South Regional Community Center to pack 25,000 Meals of Hope. The event was sponsored by the Jewish Women’s Foundation of the Berkshires (JWF), a constituent organization of the Jewish Federation of the Berkshires.
Meals of Hope (MOH) is a Naples, Florida-based organization that runs meal-packing events throughout the country. Each packed pouch, which contains dry ingredients that just need to be reconstituted with water, will provide dinner for a family of six to eight people. Cartons of pouches will be distributed to food pantries throughout the county by The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts.
Chair of the day was JWF board member Toby Kleban Levine, who first learned about Meals of Hope in Florida, where she has participated in several packing events. “I thought this would be a wonderful way for our JWF members to do something for the community. Steve Popper, MOH’s executive director, could not have been more helpful, and his assistant, Matt Dunfee, who was the point person from MOH on site on Sunday, was a fantastic partner and organizer.
“When we started thinking about this event,” said Levine, “we thought the packers would mostly come from our membership. But this quickly turned into a community effort, with volunteers from Construct, Berkshire Bounty, Berkshire South, Muddy Brook Elementary School, and a local hiking group joining JWF members. As a matter of fact, we had so many volunteers, that we created two shifts of workers and had to cajole the first shift to give up their slots so others could participate.”
Organized into six assembly lines, each captained by a JWF board member, tables soon became competitive to see which could finish their quota first, and as the filled cartons piled up against the wall, a sense of communal accomplishment was clearly evident. Assembly line captains Helice Picheny, Shirley Friedman Yohalem, Phyllis Cohen, Robin Weiser, Pommy Levy, and Jane Glaser trained the volunteers on their line, kept the tables stocked with ingredients, and cheered workers on throughout.
Liz Jaffe, JWF’s volunteer coordinator, and Anne Schnesel, a JWF board member, had the responsibility of checking in all the volunteers, who were required to wear masks, show vaccination cards, and once in the packing room, don gloves and hairnets. When the volunteers were thanked, it was not unusual for them to thank the organizers instead for the opportunity to do something hands-on for their neighbors.
“Established to help out Berkshire Community through charity and acts of kindness, JWF enables our members to pool financial resources and provide grants to help out neighbors in ways we could not as individuals,” said WJF co-chairs Phyllis Cohen and Robin Weiser. “This Meals of Hope project is especially satisfying: it enabled us to both provide meals for neighbors in need and to provide a hands-on experience for our members.”
In Judaism, this kind of work is called a mitzvah, or good deed.