By Anna Gustafson
Those whose lives have taken a turn for the worse came into the rooms in Forest Hills’ Queens Jewish Community Council this week mostly with their heads down, pushing carts that would soon be filled with blue plastic bags brimming with food for Thanksgiving.
They were young and old, parents with children, people who never expected hunger to come so quickly, so easily. They asked politely for the free food and quietly said thank you as they left the Queens Jewish Community Council building on Union Turnpike and went back into a world that has taken away many of their jobs, leaving them with little to no extra money for the holidays.
“We’re seeing a much bigger need for food these days,” said Cynthia Zalisky, executive director of the Queens Jewish Community Council.
The QJCC gave away 2,000 bags of food to 1,000 families from throughout the borough Monday and Tuesday. About 50 volunteers packed the two bags each family received, which included fresh fruit and potatoes, corn, milk, rice, beans, yams, peanuts and orange juice. The food was given to the QJCC from the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty and the UJA Federation of New York.
The QJCC is located in Forest Hills, but services individuals and families throughout the borough.
Volunteers and QJCC officials spent Sunday morning packing the bags, including Kew Gardens resident Marina Litman, a case manager at the QJCC.
“They were extremely enthusiastic,” Litman said of the volunteers. “There were people from the younger generation and seniors. They were 5 to 85 years old.”
The QJCC has been giving away food for Thanksgiving for years, but Zalisky said it is continuing to see more middle-class families hit hard by the recession line up for the holiday packages — and for items from their food pantry in general.
“They keep coming and coming from all walks of life,” she said. “They’re looking for creative ways to save money so they can pay their rent or mortgage.”
In the last year and a half, Zalisky said the QJCC’s food pantry has typically been empty once every 2 1/2 weeks instead of once every month as it had in prior years because of the number of individuals who continue to lose their jobs.
“A lot of the middle class are draining out their savings,” Zalisky said. “It’s not getting better, at least not in Queens. We’re finding doctors, people who are upper middle class losing their jobs. There are definitely upper management jobs being lost.”
The QJCC helps individuals who have been cut out of the work force and often refers them to the UJA Federation’s Connect to Care program, which helps those who have lost their jobs with career retraining, résumés and interview skills.
While Zalisky said they have seen the numbers of people coming to them for help increase by 30 percent in the last year, she said she knows there are others struggling in Queens who have yet to use their services.
“We want them to know we understand their plight and that we will treat them with dignity,” Zalisky said.
The executive director said when individuals arrive for the Thanksgiving food, they can also apply for food stamps.
The QJCC accepts kosher donations. Individuals can receive more information about the pantry by contacting Zalisky at email@example.com or 718-544-9033.
Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 174.