Tzedakah on parade: JCC campers help Jewish Food Pantry

BY ARIANA TOBIN, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

There’s something about the extreme heat that brings out a competitive streak. Think about it: the truth is in our vernacular. A particularly close election is called a “heated race,” the Cardinals are “on fire” when they’re doing well.

So perhaps it makes sense that summer camps have long served as the center for all activities, shows, or sports competitive.

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At the Jewish Community Center Summer Camps, this year has proven to be no exception. However, along with the traditional races and games, directors channeled campers’ competitive energy into a service project, in which the various camps raced to collect canned goods for the Harvey Kornblum Jewish Food Pantry.

The drive lasted until July 31 at 1 p.m., when approximately 250 campers of all ages marched on a closed section of Schuetz Road from the JCC to the pantry to deliver almost 2,000 cans.

“It was overwhelmingly beautiful. It probably took 30 minutes for every child to walk over and personally deposit it on the shelves. They personally came in the front door, deposited food cans in the pantry, put it on the shelves, and walked through the side door. Our staff was cheering them on the whole time,” said Sue Rundblad, Coordinator of the Harvey Kornblum Jewish Food Pantry.

Metaphorically speaking, the winners earned more than just a cookie cake party. Campers were reminded of children who may not have the opportunity to compete in swim races or color wars. The hike, which JCC camp director Joey Boime entitled “Tiyul For Hunger,” was designed to encourage participants to keep making a difference and to keep, as Boime puts it, “repairing the world.”

According to Rundblad, the JCC camps and the food pantry “adopt” each other in a mutually beneficial relationship. Last year, campers planted and tended a garden, then donated their harvest.

“They actually saw what a food pantry was. We’ve been very fortunate that Joey Boime and the other counselors are really aware and they are really good about teaching the children during camp about the need for food. Words can mean something, but when you actually see it, it makes it real, so to speak,” Rundblad said.

The program specifically benefits the Jewish Family and Children’s Service, which runs counseling and therapy programs as well as the pantry.

The Food Pantry’s supplies are most replete during the high holidays, when congregations run canned good drives, and the winter holidays. However, during the season that celebrates the Fourth of July and Labor Day, their stock runs a bit leaner. Unfortunately, for families with school-aged children, the months of summer vacation are often the most difficult. Students are home during the day, and they do not get the reduced price school lunch to tide them over.

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, rising food costs and an otherwise “wobbly” economy have increased demand at the pantry by more than 70 percent from 2007.

“We’re getting comments from people who are saying they used to donate, and now they’re coming. It’s a different statement than we’ve heard before. We’re getting people who were breaking even, but wit the price of gasoline, we’re getting people who maybe at a better, time even last year at this time, wouldn’t have thought about it,” Rundblad said.