Synagogues collaborate to help achieve food security and nutritional self-sufficiency

Synagogues collaborate to help achieve food security and nutritional self-sufficiency

Every year around Christmas, temples organize canned food trips to help those in need.

This year, Congregation member Emanu El Philip Tenenbaum is taking it to the next level with a special co-op program.

Food and Faith Collaborative will be a hands-on initiative, bringing together four Houston synagogues and many community partners to help enable food security and nutritional self-sufficiency.

Congregations Emanu El, Beth Israel, Beth Yeshurun, and the Houston Congregation for Reform Judaism will work with Second Servings of Houston, the Houston Coalition for the Homeless and UT Health to put together free monthly grocery stores at an apartment complex in Houston.

Volunteers from the temples will work with beneficiaries on nutritional plans, provide meal preparation training and help build healthy eating patterns to keep the underserved in Houston.

“We want to help in the long-term to achieve food security and enable self-sufficiency in our community,” Tenenbaum told JHV. “Collecting food once a year is great, but we want to take this beyond a day’s canned food trip on Yom Kippur.”

“This is a social work project that the gatherings will do together, and demonstrating this kind of partnership is a win-win for everyone, especially the beneficiaries who really need it.

“Giving a hungry person food is so meaningful. There can be nothing better during this time of year than looking someone in the eye knowing we made their day better.”

The plan is to formally launch the program in the second half of October or early November, and then start working monthly thereafter.

Chief Rabbi Emanu Oren Hayon has worked with Tenenbaum from the start and will join his fellow senior rabbis in promoting the Bima Initiative in these Holy Days.

“This is a great example of what a tzedakah looks like in the real world, and I feel honored to be a part of it,” Rabbi Hayon told JHV.

“It was inspiring to watch Philip use his professional and volunteer experience to create this new pioneering project to tackle hunger in our community.

“It is so special that he conceived a project guided by Jewish philanthropic priorities: aimed at lifelong self-sufficiency, as well as temporary relief from hunger.”

Congregations Emanu El, Beth Israel, Beth Yeshurun, and the Houston Congregation for Reform Judaism will work with Second Servings of Houston, the Houston Coalition for the Homeless and UT Health to put together free monthly grocery stores at an apartment complex in Houston.

According to the Food & Faith Collaborative, more than 16% of Houstonians are food insecure and have limited or uncertain access to enough food, especially healthy options.

Demand at the Houston Food Bank is up 30% in the past year, adding to food access issues.

“More than 80% of an individual’s health is determined outside the health care system,” Tenenbaum said. “Public health is determined by things like food insecurity, the availability of health providers, and housing.”

This is where many organizational partners help.

Barbara Bronstein, who founded Second Servings of Houston in 2015, started creating pop-up grocery stores about six months ago.

“The nice part about this pop-up grocery store is that it serves people with dignity,” Bronstein told JHV. “It gives people the opportunity to try new things, without risk. We don’t just give them a box or a bag of food. They can choose from fresh foods they like or have never tried before.”

“I had a 70-year-old just tell us, ‘I’ve never had a lamb in my life, and the lamb chops I got in the last pop-up were my all-time favorites. “

Another woman on another site said, ‘I love asparagus, but it’s always pricey, but here I have some. “

“Hopefully they will kick healthy eating habits if they understand that they like something like turkey or yogurt for the first time.”

Working alongside the recipients will be dietitians and nutritionists from many synagogues, as well as from UT Health.

Shrila Sharma is a professor of epidemiology at the University of Texas School of Public Health and co-founder — with Lisa Hillman, director of public affairs at HEB — for the nonprofit Brighter Bites.

Sharma’s focus has been food insecurity in families and low-income children, and she and her team will be at the pop-ups to help and conduct research.

“While it is good to have programs that are heartwarming, we really want to know if they are impactful and will help alleviate these stresses of food insecurity,” Sharma told JHV.

“Just because you’re giving someone a fresh produce, doesn’t mean they’ll know how to use it. There can be intimidation with produce, especially vegetables. We teach them how to cook it, how to store it, and how to stretch leftovers.”

“Financially, it is about giving families a little breathing space and not always staying in this mode of survival. This can change the rules of the game over time and what is the best way to show we care.”

Recent program beneficiaries, who were previously battling homelessness, will be housed in Houston.

Beth Israel member Mike Nichols is CEO of the Houston Homeless Coalition in Harris, Montgomery, and Fort Bend.

Through the Alliance’s Path to Home program, Nichols is working to identify residential communities with formerly homeless families and individuals who could benefit.

Since 2012, the program has hosted more than 25,000 people with an 85% success rate — which means they stay in these units and improve their health, mental health, and income prospects, according to Nichols.

The added benefit of having healthy food available would be an added boost.

“We’re really excited about this program, because it really helps meet the need for these people after they’ve moved,” Nichols told JHV.

“This is a great idea to give a tzedakah and do some tikkun olam about homelessness. This will be a real asset to these communities.”

For Tenenbaum, who retired as an HR consultant at the end of 2020, the initiative fills a much-needed niche in society.

He said that if all goes well, he plans to reach out to churches and mosques and really make it an interfaith initiative. For now, it is a great opportunity for the Jewish community to gather around the supreme holy days.

“As a Jewish community, this is the highest form of tzedakah we can offer,” Tenenbaum said.

“By providing these nutritional opportunities in a practical way, we can work towards achieving self-sufficiency for everyone. I am really looking forward to the results.”

To volunteer with Food & Faith Collaborative, send an email [email protected].

Philip Tenenbaum, second shareholder Houston CEO Barbara Bronstein and Congregation Emanu El Rabbi Oren Hayon help load food into the second meal truck.

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