Agencies Unite to Provide ‘Kosher on Wheels’

By STEVE ARNOLD

Getting kosher food in Hamilton has always been a challenge for some people, but now, three local agencies are hoping to ease that problem.

With a $60,000 federal grant funneled through the local United Way, Hamilton Jewish Family Services (HJFS), the Hamilton Jewish Federation, and Adas Israel Synagogue have launched Kosher on Wheels to deliver up to 30 free meals a week to needy residents.

The project was conceived by local chef Max Bida as a way of returning some of the kindness shown to him when he arrived in Canada from Israel in 2015.

“When I came here, people helped me, so now I help others,” Bida told the CJR. “It’s not about money, it’s not about making a name for myself but to give back,” he said.

Bida said he brings “whatever tools I’ve got to the table. I have a lot of experience in the kitchen and in managing projects like this. I volunteered in Israel…so I figured I could do the same here.”

With his culinary consulting business sidelined by the COVID crisis, Bida took his idea of kosher food on wheels to the Hamilton Jewish Federation and Adas Israel Rabbi Daniel Green.

The Federation provided money and Adas Israel provided the kosher kitchen. Hamilton Jewish Family Services also provided money, as well as the link to clients, arranged the distribution system and was the lead agency on the United Way grant application.

Menu options include soups, chicken, a side of root vegetables, Italian meatballs and rice or pasta, whole fish, with salad, a pickle or coleslaw, among others.

Bida prepares all the food himself in the Adas Israel kitchen and packages it for delivery. As much as 70 per cent of the food has been donated.

Rabbi Green said Bida has been a volunteer on several Adas Israel projects. Based on that experience, the rabbi said he was happy to support the meals-on-wheels idea.

“There is a real spirit of giving and volunteering with Max,” Rabbi Green said. “He runs the whole food side of the operation.

“I think we’re just scratching the tip of the iceberg in terms of the need,” he added. “The more outreach we can do, the more need we are going to see.”

Coming together as Food4U, the organizations have already been able to provide 210 free kosher meals to families in need and more than 210 meals at-cost to others by delivery or curbside pick-up.

HJFS executive director Alexis Wenzowski said getting kosher food to local residents in need “has been on our radar for a while.”

COVID, however, brought a new urgency by making it unsafe for the elderly and vulnerable people to leave their homes.

“We are targeting a population that is marginalized in the community or feeling hidden in this community,” she said. “Now they are feeling supported and that means a lot.”

The United Way grant, she said, will give the program financial stability until March, allowing Bida to be paid a small wage and help with the cost of kosher products, which can be up to 50 per cent higher than non-kosher items.

Federation executive director Gustavo Rymberg said the program will get support from the Jewish appeal next year because it fills a real need in the community.

“We have always seen a need in the community for more kosher options for those who need it. With this program, we are not only responding to a crisis, we are transforming a crisis into an opportunity,” he said.

Federal support for the project was provided through the Emergency Community Relief Fund, a $350 million initiative to help charities and non-profit organizations serving vulnerable populations affected by COVID.