JFS Perspectives

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

Weinberg Food Pantry Spotlight by Gabe Moe-Lobeda

Weinberg Food Pantry Spotlight by Gabe Moe-Lobeda

Community is the bedrock of all forms of wellness. It is where we can lean into and lean on those who understand our circumstances, who alleviate our struggles, who share our common pain.

At Jewish Family Service (JFS), in South Denver, community is what keeps staff and volunteers working and thriving. With the isolation that so many of us are feeling right now, community is the thread that keeps them motivated and gives their clients a sense of belonging. The staff at JFS have all come together to keep the pantry up and running during COVID, even when they are shorthanded. But, in these last few months, JFS has seen an outpouring of time and energy from their volunteers that keeps the pantry feeling like a place where everyone is welcome. They have more volunteers in a day now than they did in a week pre-COVID, and every day they arrive with smiles, tireless work ethics, and kindness towards their clients. On these long, hot days it is truly inspiring to know that every day JFS can count on community members to work towards building a better world.

Because of the work taking place at Jewish Family Service, and that strong sense of community, navigating a global pandemic has actually proven to be an effective opportunity to destigmatize hunger in our society. With so many people out of work or missing paychecks right now, there has been a rally around food insecurity unlike any seen in the past few years at the pantry. This crisis has shown that food insecurity is so often not the fault of the person whom it affects. We live in a society that stigmatizes hunger, while at the same time laying the framework to be one missed paycheck or medical bill away from experiencing it. The fact that so many people are out of work right now is no fault of their own, but even when there is not a pandemic going on the reasons people experience hunger and food insecurity are hardly ever their own fault. The hope for staff at JFS is that the support and awareness around hunger and food insecurity continue after this all ends and we can work towards both destigmatizing and eliminating hunger on a permanent basis.

In order to effectively build that community and eliminate hunger on a permanent basis, two critical pillars that JFS operates from is ensuring that the services provided are participant-centered and culturally appropriate to the diverse clients they serve. In their departments where direct verbal communication is necessary, they have staff members who speak the languages of the clients most frequently served, like Arabic in their Refugee Mental Health department, or Russian for the clients in their Aging Care & Connections department. And, they always have phone translation services available for clients and staff who do not speak the same language. They try to have documents and signs in as many of the common languages we see as possible, and we have Spanish speaking staff in the pantry. However, one large challenge in the pantry is that it's much more difficult to provide culturally appropriate foods when everything is pre-packed and people are not shopping for themselves. One way to combat this: JFS always has fish on hand for their Jewish, Muslim, or any other client who cannot eat pork and other meats. Food, like language, builds community, so last year JFS held their first community picnic and invited clients to bring a dish from their home to bridge the boundaries of culture, language, and space.

In fact, one of the most beautiful things about JFS is that they offer so much more than the food at the pantry. The many services provided are all in some way directly or indirectly connected to the issues of social justice we see in our society. They have school-based therapists in twelve public schools, and one private school, around Denver who provide free mental health services to students, which gives those students a healthy outlet to grow, heal, and deal with any struggles or traumas they have or are experiencing, rather than facing suspension or legal recourse as a consequence to their behaviors. With so much vitriol directed towards immigrants, their Refugee Mental Health Department helps those who have recently immigrated to our country deal with the stress of that process, as well as with any trauma they may have experienced before they arrived. They also provide mental health services to the general public on a sliding scale that allows people (who may not otherwise be able) to afford access to therapy.

As COVID is piled on top of the already stress-filled lives of those living in poverty, access to mental health services (that are so frequently denied to those who cannot afford them) is more important than ever. The pantry, although in no way a long term or systemic fix, provides nutritional options to those who may be living in a food desert in our city or who cannot keep up with the rising cost of living. In a society that creates so much wealth disparity, while not providing the tools to get to the other side of that divide, JFS provides employment services, skill-building workshops, and job training for people looking for meaningful employment or trying to improve the employment they currently have. These wrap-around services are intentionally provided by JFS to address and alleviate the effects of the deeply connected and varied social justice issues that pervade our communities.

Gabe Moe-LobedaThis article was written by Gabe Moe-Lobeda, Weinberg Food Pantry coordinator, and originally appeared in the Colorado Food Pantry Network newsletter last month.

META DESCRIPTION: JFS Weinberg Food Pantry coordinator, Gabe Moe-Lobeda, wrote this member spotlight article for the Colorado Food Pantry Network that explains how JFS is helping people through the COVID-19 pandemic in many ways.