In the years since he lost his full-time job in the health care industry, Marc Berlin has been coming to the Rina Shkolnik Kosher Food Pantry in Woodmere to pick up fruits, vegetables and other foods he considers a luxury.
“This helps supplement a lot of what I can’t afford to buy with food stamps,” said Berlin, 47, of Cedarhurst, who, despite having two part-time jobs and collecting disability payments, doesn’t earn enough money to pay for the foods he needs and wants.
Berlin lost his job in 2009. He and Linda L., and Nikki F., a single mother of three children, are among the estimated 20,000 Jewish residents of southwestern Nassau County and eastern Queens living in poverty, said Joel A. Block, executive director of the Marion Aaron Gural JCC, which helps operate the largest kosher food pantry on Long Island. The women asked that their family names not be published.
The trio dropped by the food pantry Thursday, the day the Stop & Shop Supermarket Co. announced that the chain had donated a ton of kosher food, estimated to be worth about $24,000, before Passover, which starts April 22 at sundown.
It’s a weeklong commemoration of the Jews’ exodus from slavery in Egypt. Many Jews mark the major holiday with ritual-laden seders, festive dinners that generally take place the first and second nights of Passover.
Among the donated foods are matzo, gefilte fish, egg noodles, canned salmon, potato kugel and apple juice.
These Jewish residents struggling to feed themselves and their families face similar challenges as other poor Long Islanders, Block said. They live in one of the most expensive areas of the country where jobs are still tight.
“I’ve seen this need pretty steady for the last couple of years,” he said.
In 2014, there were more than 300,000 residents on Long Island, or about 1 in 9, who faced hunger every day and who regularly tapped food pantries, soup kitchens and other programs for help, according to the food bank Island Harvest.
Linda L., 50, of Island Trees, who lives with her parents, is a newcomer to the Rina Shkolnik Kosher Food Pantry. The family’s financial stress began about three years ago when her brother, who supported her parents, died of a heart attack. Then, shortly thereafter, her father’s health deteriorated and he needed round-the-clock care.
“The doctor bills added up,” Linda said. “We used up a lot of our savings.”
In addition to soup and pasta, Linda picks up a lot of applesauce and oatmeal for her father, who takes it with medicine.
“If not, I’d have to spend a lot of money on applesauce,” she said.
Nikki F., 42, of Lawrence, until her divorce, said she never had to worry about money. But after her divorce a little more than five years ago, she was left to care for three children alone. Once a month, Nikki stops by the food pantry for such staples as pasta, canned foods, toiletries and shampoo. The free items represent about 20 percent of the family’s basic needs.
“I don’t have to buy toothpaste this month,” Nikki said. “Every penny counts. Every $3, $5 — it all adds up.”
Although Nikki has two part-time jobs, one as a support staff for individuals with special needs and the other as a wax technician, she doesn’t make enough to pay for her family’s basic needs, and doesn’t know what she would do without the food pantry.
“Hopefully, one day when I am working full time or have a better salary, I’ll be able to be a donor,” she said. “I’ll be on the giving end as opposed to being on the receiving end.”