Bonnie Schwartzbaum, Director of Jewish Community Services (JCS) Kosher Food Bank

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This week’s Torah portion, Shmini, teaches the laws of keeping kosher, so we are featuring a kosher food bank. Based in South Florida, the Jewish Community Services (JCS) Kosher Food Bank not only provides kosher food for those in need, but also job placement services, help for victims of domestic violence, and support for seniors.

Read our interview below with Director Bonnie Schwartzbaum. 

What is the mission of your organization?
The mission of Jewish Community Services is to improve the quality of life and self-sufficiency of the Jewish and broader communities throughout South Florida in accordance with Jewish values.
 
How did you first get involved with the the JCS Kosher Food Bank?
In 2008 I went on a "mini mission" to tour the JCS Kosher Food Bank. I was amazed by the wonderful work they were doing and started to volunteer and ran some fundraisers to support the families. I saw an opportunity to expand services and give more food. In 2011 when the director retired, I applied for the position.
 
How would you connect your organization to a Jewish value?
In Pirkei Avot, we learn that the world stands on three pillars. One of the pillars is deeds of loving kindness. These acts of kindness can greatly improve the lives of others. At the JCS Kosher Food Bank, we strive to make a real difference in people's lives by providing not only food but job placement services, help for victims of domestic violence, and support for seniors.

What has surprised you about working with your organization?
I was surprised that many people were not aware that there are Jewish families in our community that struggle to put food on the table.

Who has inspired you in the work that you are doing?
One of my clients was in a really low place, she had emailed me that she had $25 in the bank begging for assistance. I was able to help her with a car payment and electric bill through our local Federation. I also was able to set her up with a job interview. She got the job, and is now in a much better place financially. She no longer is a client of the Kosher Food Bank. Six months after she got her job, she came in with gift cards to donate and pay it forward, to help someone else just like we helped her. She is my inspiration.

What’s a story about your organization that is meaningful to you?
One of our clients was doing fine financially, but was struck by tragedy when their five year old son was hospitalized with meningitis and was diagnosed with traumatic brain injury as a result. The family's life changed dramatically overnight. The mom hasn't been able to work as she cares for her son full time. We have been assisting this family for years with food but also anything else that comes up that we are able to help with. I think it's been especially meaningful to me to realize that our circumstances can change at any given moment, and we should always be grateful and never judge another. This mom is one of the strongest people I know, and her resilience and positive attitude despite her circumstance is meaningful to me.

What's the best part of your job and why?
I love teaching young children about how they can help others in need in their community. I am often in the field speaking with students in schools and kicking off their school food drives. Children as young as four years old can feel empowered about being able to be a part of a community that cares for each other and giving back to others in need.

What are some non-monetary ways for others to get involved in your organization or cause?
Volunteers can get involved in a variety of ways. They can run a food drive, collect plastic bags from grocery stores and drop them off,  volunteer on site in our warehouse assisting clients, pick up and deliver food that is donated by local vendors etc...

To learn more about the JCS Kosher Food Bank visit https://jcsfl.org/programs/kosher-food-bank/.

Amy Benarroch