During the month of August, we issued a challenge to our Beantown Jewish Gardens community to volunteer for hunger relief. There are a broad array of agencies working to feed the food insecure in our community, through a combination of nutritional and financial support. Led by the Greater Boston Food Bank, we have a well coordinated local network and infrastructure of hunger relief, with over 500 member agencies.
I have been inspired this month by two agencies I volunteered with: Food Link and Boston Area Gleaners.
Both serve to (re)distribute surplus food to those in need. At Food Link, a small and mighty group of JVGB volunteers helped to sort and package surplus food for delivery to community organizations. While other volunteers picked up the food and brought it to us, still others would take it back out to distribute, a massive volunteer effort on a daily basis. Their new building was built with a recognition of themselves as a community organization, it includes work spaces for others as well as room for their own growth.
Boston Area Gleaners also has a new facility, and whereas they previously exclusively sent groups of volunteers out to glean (harvest excess) crops on area farms, they recently purchased their own farm property. Building on their produce (re)distribution network, they now grow their own crops for donation and distribution in addition. They have also partnered with Food For Free to package Just Eats food boxes that are distributed in Cambridge and Somerville.
Both organizations collaborate extensively with other area organizations and rely on large numbers of volunteers.
The Covid pandemic amplified inequities in our food system and also the resilience of our local networks. Judaism has agricultural roots, so many of the underpinnings of our social support and care networks involve how crops and fields are managed.
The idea of Pe’ah, and leaving the corners of the fields available for the poor and the stranger, is paramount.
Food insecure folks have always existed in our community, and that will likely continue. Issues of anonymity, access, dignity, distribution, quality and quantity are the same concerns Rabbi’s had in ancient times. Today we have more complicated global supply chain networks and don’t often know who in our community is hungry. When we consider how we treat each other, we must alleviate the burden of food insecurity around us. Our gardens and our actions play a part in that.