Food for Thought: Feeding Families in Need

 In Caring

On a chilly day in December, dozens of volunteers filled Temple Beth Hillel in Richmond. Boxes of food and bags of produce lined the walls and overflowed from tables. People rushed around, removing empty cardboard crates and sorting donations. It was day-two of box packing for Food for Thought.

Now in its seventh year, Food for Thought provides a box of nonperishable food, a box of produce, and a large frozen turkey to 150-200 low-income families during winter break.

Food for Thought was started because there is a gaping hole in the social safety net, and a staggering amount of hunger in Richmond and surrounding towns. Of the 65 schools in the West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD), 15 have 100% of their students receiving free or subsidized meals. Another 15 have 60% or more students enrolled. While there is a summer lunch program, food support disappears when school is closed for vacations or long breaks. Families who live on the edge of poverty struggle to feed themselves during these times, including winter break.

“The food comes from a mix of places. A lot is donations from the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano. A lot is purchased. A lot is donated throughout the year,” explained Neil Zarchin, First Vice President of Temple Beth Hillel. “We have year-round peanut butter and tuna collection drives. We’ll be going out at six in the morning tomorrow to pick up 266 frozen turkeys and Kaiser has donated insulated bags so that they’ll stay frozen.”

Despite the ongoing need, Temple Beth Hillel’s members know the synagogue alone does not have the capacity to expand Food for Thought beyond the seven schools they currently support. “Even if we were able to come up with enough donations and funding to provide the food, we would not have the physical space to store, box, and distribute it. And we’re not even scratching the surface of the need. There are six schools we’re not even touching, and there are hundreds of students at each school that we’re not reaching,” said Zarchin.

Rather than expand their own program, the volunteers at Temple Beth Hillel have chosen to work with other congregations, helping them adopt parallel programs in hopes that additional involvement of other local synagogues, churches, and mosques will reach far more families in need.

They have gotten involved in “Let’s Feed the Kids,” a coalition of six faith-based organizations that includes Shell Ridge Community Church, Congregation B’nai Tikvah, Grace Presbyterian Church Walnut Creek, Clayton Valley Presbyterian, and the Shared Ministries of Pittsburgh. In 2016, there were ten faith organizations from throughout Contra Costa County involved in Food for Thought.

Temple Beth Hillel’s ultimate goal is to inspire enough congregations to participate so that all families at all 15 low-income schools will have enough food to get them through all school breaks.

“We want Food for Thought to be a model that other congregations can emulate in their mission to feed hungry school children and their families. The goal is to have enough congregations working to make sure no child is hungry at Christmas,” said Zarchin. “It has never been our intention to have our Food for Thought be big enough to feed all Richmond children. That would involve us doing more management of the program than doing the work. We prefer have our hands involved in the justice of helping these people, in concert with other caring organizations doing the same.”

Through the support of generous donors to the Community Campaign, Federation and Foundation are able to partner with Temple Beth Hillel in their efforts to expand the reach of Food for Thought. Give to the Community Campaign today.

Interested in getting your congregation involved in Food for Thought? Contact Michael Cohen, president of Temple Beth Hillel at

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