Jewish Food Pantry turns 25

Lois Caplan

IF MY MEMORY IS NOT PLAYING TRICKS ON ME, I recall that 25 years ago there was a lot of excitement about a new project here in St. Louis called the Jewish Food Pantry. Started in 1991 with a small grant from Jewish Federation, it was housed in the Jewish Family and Children’s Service (JF&CS) Allan Hoffman Building. 

During its first year it  served 40 families. As I recall it was basically one room with shelves filled with nonperishable food in cans and boxes. Not very impressive, I thought.

Fast forward 25 years and I will take you on a fabulous tour of the food pantry now named for one of its most ardent and dedicated supporters, the late Harvey Kornblum. Today the Harvey Kornblum Jewish Food Pantry, located in its own spacious building, a rehabbed warehouse, is a literal life saver for thousands of men, women and children. I have tried to stay away from statistics, but these are so mind boggling that I feel like I must share them with you. For example, last year the food pantry served 5,135 households, translating to 87,437 individuals.  Forty percent of those served are children while 41 percent are adults and 19 percent are seniors.

Last week I toured the Jewish Food Pantry with Judy Berkowitz as my enthusiastic guide. Judy is its director who is partially responsible for the tremendous success of the food pantry, including large amounts of food and personal care items of every type donated by members of the community, synagogues and local businesses. Her staff consists of 11 full-time and part-time members, including four truck drivers, but they are only the tip of the workforce. The real day-to-day work of registering clients, shopping with them, inspecting and sorting food, and stocking the shelves is done by more than 150 volunteers.

Since December 2012 the food pantry has occupied its own quarters, a rehabbed warehouse at 10601 Bauer Blvd., which is named in honor of special donors Max and Drew Erlich. The pantry rivals the size of any of our cities’ large chain stores. It includes refrigerated and freezer rooms as well as what looks to me like miles of shelving for everything else, plus large bins for fresh fruit and vegetables.

With great pride, Judy explained, “This is a ‘client choice’ pantry, which means that we don’t hand pre-packaged bags of food to clients. Instead volunteers shop with clients in our pantry area, similar to shopping in a grocery store. It helps to treat people with dignity and provide control at a time in their lives when everything else might be beyond their control. We want our clients at the Harvey Kornblum Jewish Food Pantry to feel taken care of and appreciated.”

Although I know that you have trusted my judgement for over 50 years, I still want you to go and see for yourselves this remarkable gift to the needy in our community, a gift from the Jewish community.  On Sunday, Aug. 28 from 1 to 4 p.m., the food pantry will celebrate 25 years of feeding families. Rain or shine, indoors or outdoors, there will be music, strolling circus performers, snow cones, tours, selfies and service projects. Be sure to bring your kids, as much of the event is planned for them and what better way is there to teach them how to help others in need. As long as you are going to the food pantry, take along a donation. Suggested items are peanut butter, canned fish, canned chicken, beans, chili and stew. This is an unusual opportunity for all of us to pitch in and help support the Harvey Kornblum Jewish Food Pantry for this special reason – because nobody should go to bed hungry!


BUY YOURSELF AN EVENING OF NON-STOP LAUGHTER. “The Drowsy Chaperone,” which opened last week at Stages St. Louis, is just that. Filled with song and dance plus wall-to wall-funnies, the show is magnificently produced with a great cast, fabulous sets and one joke after another. It plays through Aug. 21. For tickets call 314-821-2407 or visit 


HERE’S SOMETHING ELSE NOT TO MISS—PEACE THROUGH PYRAMIDS. The Jewish Arab Galilee Circus comes to St. Louis from Israel to partner with Circus Harmony’s St. Louis Arches through Aug. 15. They will perform together in various places while they are here. For a show schedule or tickets call Jessica Hentoff at 314-226-3633 or go to