Even after the state designated food pantries and food banks as essential operations during the coronavirus pandemic and allowed them to provide services again, the staff and volunteers manning the Sid Jacobson Jewish Community Center (SJJCC) in East Hills faced a mountain of obstacles to get supplies to people in need. With an infectious illness creeping about, the center had to devise a way to collect donations without subjecting anybody to the risk of catching COVID-19.
“We needed food in the bank,” SJJCC Director of Community Engagement Susan Berman said. “People were asking what they could do within the first couple days of us being truly closed. As soon as I was able to reopen the food bank, I needed it to be safe. So I thought that the best way to handle it was to provide an opportunity to do contact-free drop-offs.”
Berman and company devised a system of weekly curbside drop-offs, carving out two hours each Sunday where community members could drive up to the center and either leave the food they brought outside the food bank themselves or have volunteers unload the car for them.
To protect the donors, all volunteers are vetted to make sure they are symptom free each time they come to help. To protect the recipients, the collected items are quarantined for a full day to get rid of any lingering germs before they’re loaded into cars and dropped off at peoples’ doorsteps.
Like always, the bank accepts non-perishable items like canned food, cereal and pasta. In tandem with those items, the SJJCC gives out emergency packages provided by Island Harvest that include 12 pounds of food.
To say that the curbside drop offs have been successful would be an understatement. Two Sundays ago on April 19, the two-hour operation netted the center 1,416 pounds of food. That’s nearly three quarters of a ton, just a little lighter than a Smart Car.
“It’s special because it’s a meaningful way for the community to do something safe and really feel like they’re part of it,” Berman said. “Whether they’re dropping off a cart or a can or a car-load of food, everybody’s participating in helping their neighbor.”
The help the SJJCC is receiving from the community has been incredible, but knowing Roslyn, Berman said it was far from unexpected.
“I am not surprised,” Berman said. “The community that we live in and work in is incredible. They hear the call to action and they really step up.”
The quarantine period for donated items gives the bank the chance to figure out what items they’re in need of the most. Berman said every donation is appreciated, but the bank is especially hoping to pick up ready-made meals, cereal, non-perishable milk, peanut butter and jelly, wipes and diapers.
The SJJCC’s next curbside drop-offs are scheduled for May 3 and May 10 from noon-2 p.m. at the center’s complex at 300 Forest Dr. in Greenvale.