Friday, March 28, 2014

Food packages

When I came to the Joint almost ten years ago, the big issue was the transition from food packages to smart cards. Food packages were critical in the first years when the Joint came back to the former Soviet countries. And tens of thousands of elderly Jews were receiving them.

But there was a problem.

In the food packages, the maximum number of items we could give you was 18. And it was really basic stuff, for the most part: oil, pasta, kasha, that kind of thing. Not luxuries. 
So the smart card system came into being ... in Argentina.

We were facing a situation in the winter of 2001-2002 in which tens of thousands of Argentinian Jews were suddenly thrust into poverty and dependent on the Joint for food. Many of these were the 'new poor' – men and women, many in nice middle-class suits and dresses, lining up for food packages at Jewish institutions. 36,000 clients receiving food from the Joint. Because of our Jewish federations and donors.

My colleagues told me that we were receiving reports of anti-Semitic attacks, of Jews being beaten up and attacked for their packages. None of it was true. It turned out that these reports weren't true. But they taught us something very interesting. That the food packages carry a price - and not just a logistic price; a price for overhead and our shipping and handling. They taught us that there's a price for dignity and self-respect.

These "new Poor" Jews didn't like that price. To line up and ask for food can be demeaning. It can take away your self-respect. Which is why rumors – false rumors – were spread about anti-Semitic attacks, because so many people there hated the food package system.

So the food card system - the 'coto' card - began. And as it spread, we noticed some fascinating side effects .... people had more choice, more dignity. It wasn't just about food. It was about hope.

Which is why the last few weeks in Kiev and Crimea have been so interesting. Because, in the name of security for our clients and keeping homebound and less-mobile clients secure, we've had to increase the food package system because so many of the older clients are too scared, or unable, to go shopping with the cards. In other words, we're going back to our history for a slightly less efficient - but more caring - method of taking care of food needs.

So, the other day, I was looking through some archival notes and I came across this photo ...

It's a photo of JDC staff in Munich, Germany, loading matza and food packages for transportation to DP (Displaced Persons) Camps in Europe, 1949. 

Because some things haven't changed: a global commitment to providing food for those in need, backed by our federations and donors.

If you want to receive this blog on a regular basis by email, sign up in the top-right box where it says "follow" ...

No comments:

Post a Comment