Volunteer Michelle Sanders delivering groceries. She is one of the JFS volunteer crew helping during the COVID  19  help effort.

Back in February Jewish Family Services Of Northeastern New York (JFS) did not imagine that it would become an expert in nutrition needs and telehealth so quickly, but that’s what happened. As COVID 19 imposed more and more restrictions, JFS received more and more calls for help — for help with getting groceries, accessing meals, and for general support. Parents were stressed out and anxious, kids were experiencing unimaginable losses, and seniors once able to enjoy independence, were tethered to their homes.

JFS Responded
As calls came in, JFS, in partnership with the local Jewish Federation, launched a kosher meals delivery program. To date, more than 8,000 meals have been delivered in Albany (5,843), Schenectady (1,403), Saratoga (488) and Rensselaer (187) counties. This has been a costly but vital community service. President and CEO Jane Ginsburg explains that “the effort is a tens of thousands of dollars investment to ensure the needs of our more vulnerable community members are being met, because that is what we do. We are here for our community to answer the call for help so they can avoid crisis, and we rely on philanthropic support to do so.”

Many of the meal recipients have health issues that make it difficult to stand and prepare meals. Some have a lack of an interest in eating and having a meal delivered provides essential nutrition. Lenore Kasten looks forward to having kosher meals delivered not just for the food itself (prepared by the kosher store at Price Chopper in Colonie), but also for the interaction with volunteer deliverers. “The people who bring the meals are so nice and I enjoy talking to them.” Pre-COVID, Kasten said, “I used to love to shop to food, but I am afraid to shop during the pandemic and it is harder to find the motivation. Having kosher meals delivered makes it easier and I really appreciate it.”

Volunteers have shopped and delivered groceries nearly 400 times. “Most grocery recipients do not have a way to get to the market because Project 5 is no longer able to take them,” said Lisa Gally, JFS director of essential services who has prioritized rides for medical needs for Project 5 passengers. “With the uptick in COVID cases, we are beginning to get requests for more grocery shopping again from people fearful of going into a store as they are older and high-risk.”

People Need Support
The pandemic necessitated JFS to adapt and adjust, providing support to our community virtually. In addition to providing counseling over the phone and virtually, through video platform Zoom, JFS launched several virtual  meeting groups. “Mission Impossible: Parenting During COVID-19became an anchor for many. Parents gather weekly to get encouragement around parenting, spousal concerns and emotional health. One participant shared how helpful it was to get support while helping other parents, “Sometimes I would take the call outside on the deck so I could watch the sunset and just breathe fresh air while hearing other parents who were in a different boat but the same storm. The group was incredibly comforting and empowering— I was struggling, but sometimes could offer support to others. I was in pain and heard my own feelings come from a different face.”

JFS also offered — and continues to offer —several other virtual meeting groups for older adults. They talk about things like social isolation, developing self-care routines and maintaining safety in their homes.

Going Forward
With COVID cases on the rise, JFS will continue to adapt and adjust to make sure that community needs are met. Clinicians are available for counseling and support for people of all ages. Specialists on aging can help older adults and their adult children access resources and develop long-term care plans, as well as real-time activity support from occupational therapists to promote emotional and whole-body wellness. Meals, grocery shopping, produce deliveries, rides and other essential services continue.

JFS relies on philanthropic support to provide these services. Information on services, or how to make contributions to the JFS Emergency Relief fund, may be found at jfsneny.org, info@jfsneny.org or by calling 518-482-8856.

Monica Tan is the director of marketing at Jewish Family Services.