A short history of the Jewish Food Pantry

By Patricia Corrigan, Special to the Jewish Light

W

hen the Jewish Food Pantry opened in 1991, it was coordinated by one part-time staff member and served 40 families.

Today, 11 paid staff members and 190 volunteers work at the Harvey Kornblum Jewish Food Pantry, which is open five days a week. Last year, the pantry served more than 36,000 people of all faiths and backgrounds.

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A local food pantry was Lou Albert’s idea, according to Judy Berkowitz, the director at the HKJFP. Albert, executive director of Jewish Family & Children’s Service then and now, recognized the need for such a service, particularly for low-income families who kept kosher, and he knew that a JF&CS agency in Toledo had successfully started a food pantry. Albert applied for and was awarded a Jewish Federation Planning Grant.

In 2003, Harvey Kornblum made a generous donation that enabled the hiring of additional staff to address the ever-increasing need, and the food pantry, then situated in the basement of the JF&CS’ Allan R. Hoffman Building at 10950 Schuetz Road, was renamed in his honor. In 2012, a donation from Max and Drew Erlich allowed the HKJFP to move into a much larger facility at the Erlich Center Building at 10601 Baur Boulevard. 

The 24,000-square-foot location, which opened in November 2012, is six or seven times larger than the previous space. “It is a beautiful, welcoming facility,” said Berkowitz. Two food banks, Operation Food Search and the St. Louis Area Food Bank, serve the HKJFP. “We also have connections with grocery stores and commercial donors on Produce Row,” Berkowitz said. 

In addition to providing food and personal items to clients who come to the food pantry from all over St. Louis County, the HKJFP also delivers boxes or bags of food to clients at senior housing centers and makes some home deliveries as well. Donations of pet food from local businesses helps clients feed their pets. 

Funding to support the HKJFP comes from private foundations, a small federal grant and individual donations, Berkowitz said. Community members also support the pantry through purchasing table centerpieces and bimah baskets, which are created by some of the food pantry volunteers. Today, all the volunteers at the HKJFP are being honored as Unsung Heroes. 

Berkowitz recalled a rewarding moment that took place recently at the food pantry. 

“Lou Albert was giving a tour when a woman in the reception area approached him. She told him the food pantry had made a difference in her life, helped her when she needed help the most,” Berkowitz said. “She asked to become a volunteer.”