Touch screen technology makes choosing food easy.
Anna* is no stranger to gnawing hunger. After her parents were murdered by the Nazis when she was just six, she hid with her 3-year-old brother and scavenged for food for months before being taken in by partisans. Having endured so much trauma at such a young age, one would hope that Anna would never know deprivation again. But life has taken a hard turn. Now an 83-year-old widow, Anna is struggling to make ends meet on a meager social security income.

Anna’s heartbreaking story isn’t that unusual; of the 40,000 Holocaust survivors in New York, 40 percent live in poverty.

Thankfully, survivors like Anna can turn to Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, one of UJA’s primary partners in feeding the Jewish poor. Even better, Met Council is using its digital food pantry system, first pioneered with UJA funding three years ago, to ensure that clients get the help they need without compromising their dignity.

Unlike regular food pantries, digital food pantries use touch-screen technology, allowing clients to pick the food they want, with a point system emphasizing healthy choices. Instead of receiving food packages that don’t account for allergies or cultural preferences, clients are in the driver’s seat, choosing their own proteins, fruits, grains, and other groceries.

In August 2019, Met Council expanded the digital food pantry program to target the unique needs of Holocaust survivors living in the Coney Island and Brighton Beach neighborhoods, where many survivors are Russian-speaking.

Clients register into the digital system in person, and follow-up ordering can be done easily from the comfort of home in English or Russian. Aliza Leiter, who manages Met Council’s Holocaust Survivor Program, stresses the importance of choice. “Many of these survivors ended up in the former Soviet Union and lived with food insufficiency and a lack of choice for much of their lives,” Aliza says.

The digital food pantry is a gamechanger.

“You’re not showing up at a food pantry and getting things that might end up as waste. You’re choosing what you want. It feels personal,” she explains.

Met Council is working with the Jewish Association Serving the Aging (JASA), another UJA partner, to distribute the food. After placing the order, clients pick up their food packages from neighborhood JASA senior centers, where potential clients can find out about the food program.

To date, 240 survivors participate in the Brooklyn food program.

Many survivors aren’t adept using the technology, so a social worker calls them up to take their order. Aliza says there’s an extra benefit to this process: “When our social workers call to get their food order, they’re also checking up on them to see how they’re doing, and what other issues they might be dealing with.”

For clients like Anna, who are coping with loneliness in addition to hunger, that friendly voice on the line is as nourishing as the food itself.

 

*Name has been changed to protect client’s privacy.