Volunteers keep busy at Temple Kol Ami’s Food Pantry.
Volunteers keep busy at Temple Kol Ami’s Food Pantry. (TKA)

Originally intended to last two to three months as a pop-up pantry, TKA is now scheduling two months ahead, knowing the need isn’t going away anytime soon.

Temple Kol Ami in West Bloomfield has been running a food pantry as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic since early July, and even with a new year and vaccines being rolled out, the number of families taking advantage of the pantry doesn’t seem to be slowing down.

It started small with just a few families, growing steadily. At this point, it has grown to feed more than 90 families a week, reflective of the growing local need. The pantry works in partnership with Hazon, which collects the food each week.

Originally intended to last two to three months as a pop-up pantry, TKA is now scheduling two months ahead, knowing the need isn’t going away anytime soon. 

The pantry is held every Thursday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. A lot of the food the pantry gets from Hazon is food rescue — short-dated items at the grocery store that didn’t sell. 

The pantry is currently drive-thru with times slotted out in 30-minute windows so there’s no backup of traffic. A crew of at least 18 volunteers a week help so people don’t have to leave their cars. The pantry is looking for more volunteers as well. 

The TKA pantry’s rise takes place while Temple Israel’s food pantry, which operates biweekly, had to cancel from January until mid-February because of a scheduling issue with its supplier. 

Lee Schottenfels
Lee Schottenfels works to distribute turkeys to those who need them. TKA

“We really want to make sure that we feed those who need food and that no one goes hungry in our community,” TKA Rebbetzin Jill Gutmann said. 

Gutmann was the weekly pantry coordinator at the beginning of the operations, but as time went on and the pantry grew, TKA member Deb Ford took over.

According to Gutmann, many of the families taking advantage of the pantry are actually middle-class families who have lost jobs and income because of the pandemic, but don’t necessarily qualify for government help. 

Lee Schottenfels, who is on the TKA board, has also been instrumental in running the pantry since the start. Schottenfels created an information flyer for TKA’s pantry that was added to the bags of Temple Israel’s Food Pantry recipients, which increased traffic to the pantry as did the growing word-of-mouth attention.

Help for ‘Neighbors’

Most of the “neighbors,” as TKA calls the pantry-goers, get three bags of food: one perishable, one non-perishable and one with protein. 

Ford runs the website, takes and receives phone calls from neighbors and greets every one of them each week person-by-person. 

Ford believes running the food pantry is by far the most meaningful thing she’s ever done in her life. 

“People are in tears and so grateful,” Ford said. “They take pictures of the food they make with what we give them, and they send them to us. They’re so grateful to be treated like humans, like a neighbor. They’re not just a number in a line. We value them for who they are, and that’s really important.” 

Those interested can go on the website and pick a day, time and how many family members they’re feeding. Once online spots for a day fill up, Ford encourages people to call or just arrive at the pantry, as no one will be turned away.

Ford said it appears the pantry is going to be a part of TKA’s congregation indefinitely or for as long as Hazon can provide them with food.

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