Boxes of donated food.
Boxes of donated food.

Organization hopes to gather its biggest collection of donated food since the pandemic began.

Each year before the sun sets and Kol Nidre services are chanted to mark the beginning of Yom Kippur, Jews arrive at their places of worship, some wearing white, many carrying items of food to donate.

Giving the equivalent of food that would have been eaten in lieu of fasting heralds back to the ancient Jewish custom of kapparot. Generations ago, Jews before the fast would take a live chicken, wave it over the heads of their children to transfer any possible transgressions they may have committed to the chicken and then donate the chicken to a poor family for their pre-fast meal. Though kapparot in some communities is still performed this way, most times the chicken has been replaced with food — or money — intended for tzedakah.
In Metro Detroit, Berkeley-based Yad Ezra is the coordinating agency of the community’s annual kosher food drive and its food collection bins are a commonplace sight in synagogues and schools this time of year.

Daniella Mechnikov
Daniella Mechnikov

Yad Ezra Executive Director Daniella Mechnikov said food collections begin shortly before Rosh Hashanah and continue right up through Yom Kippur. This year, Yad Ezra will collect all gathered food on Erev Sukkot, Oct. 9. Those wishing to volunteer to collect the food and deliver it to the organizations’ headquarters in Berkeley may sign up at volunteer.yadezra.org.

“What started out as something Yad Ezra once called the Kol Nidre drive evolved into collecting food through the whole High Holiday season,” Mechnikov explained. “This is our one big food drive of the year.”

Mechnikov said the organization hopes to gather its biggest collection of donated food since 2020, the onset of the COVID pandemic. During that food drive, Yad Ezra collected only about 4,000 pounds of food. Collections improved in 2021, with 13,000 pounds of food collected.

“If you can recall, (2020) was the time when no one was coming into synagogues, and people were still wiping down packages for fear of spreading COVID, so there was a period when we were not even taking food donations,” Mechnikov said. “We are hopeful that this year the community will be re-engaged with the process and get these collections back to the level of when we were collecting 25,000 pounds of kosher food for the food insecure in the community — that would be a good amount. Any food that is not labeled as kosher gets distributed to our partnering agencies.”

Yad Ezra purchases perishable food from partnering agencies such as Gleaners and Forgotten Harvest in addition to food donations from donors and its annual food drive. Mechnikov said 60 percent of the food Yad Ezra distributes is purchased at a reduced cost. Unfortunately, Yad Ezra has not been immune to inflation and has seen a 20 percent increase in the cost of purchased food, Mechnikov said.

Mechnikov also said she enjoyed the organization’s annual fundraiser on Sept. 15 honoring longtime Yad Ezra volunteers and supporters Roz and Ray Rebeck.

Apple Collecting

Partnering with Yad Ezra is the nonprofit Metro Food Rescue. Organization creator Chad Techner said this year the organization invites the community to collect apples that can be found growing on trees in one’s own neighborhood and public spaces, such as a collection of apple trees on the grounds of the Oakland County Executive office in Waterford Township.

Techner said he hopes to churn up volunteers from area congregations, religious schools and Jewish day schools to participate. Collected apples can be dropped off at distribution points on Oct. 2 and 9 at Yad Ezra and Temple Kol Ami in West Bloomfield. The apples will then head to Detroit fruit preserves manufacturer Gus & Grey to be processed, canned and donated to local food pantries. More information can be found at the organization’s website, metrofoodrescue.com.

“The collected apples will be great for processing, and we will plan to turn them into apple butter to spread around the sweetness of the new year.”

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Stacy Gittleman is an award-winning journalist and has been a contributing writer for the Detroit Jewish News for the last five years. Prior to moving to Metro Detroit in 2013, she was a columnist and feature writer for Gannett's Democrat & Chronicle in Rochester, NY. She also manages social media pages for other local non-profit organizations including the Interfaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit. Contact her with breaking news and feature story ideas that impact Detroit's Jewish community at stacy.gittleman@yahoo.com