Priced out of Pesach - families turn to charity to meet spiralling food costs

By Sandy Rashty and Jonathan Kalmus, April 3, 2014
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Charities are experiencing record demand for help from families, elderly people and the housebound unable to meet the crippling cost of Pesach provisions.

“Keeping Pesach can cost four times as much as keeping Shabbos,” said Charedi community leader Rabbi Abraham Pinter, who estimated that at least 40 per cent of the 4,500 Orthodox families in Stamford Hill would rely on charitable support to celebrate the festival.

“Most people who need help in Stamford Hill have young families. They would find it impossible without support.”

Rabbi Pinter said that those in need were assisted by either funding, food parcels or vouchers.

His sentiments were echoed by Michelle Minsky, the head of US Chesed, which distributes food parcels and vouchers, who said that demand for help in the Hackney area was on the rise.

She also noted that more elderly people from all Jewish areas were approaching the charity for the first time this year.

“Over 80 per cent of our food parcels go to singles or couples, most of whom are of a pensionable age. Older people are traditionally reluctant to ask for help, so it sounds like they are getting desperate. Pensions don’t go far and saving interest rates are low. It does create difficulties.”

US Chesed is supporting 620 families this year, with 274 receiving food parcels and 346 getting food vouchers.

At the Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women, national chair Jeffrey Fox also reported “more demands on charitable donations. Many of our members are ageing couples who have to look after themselves. Keeping kosher for Pesach is so expensive.

"There might a price war going on with matzah, but basic commodities are becoming more expensive. I wish the Beth Din would do something. There’s no mechanism in place to monitor prices and it’s a great shame. Pesach should be done at an obtainable and realistic price.”

Ajex welfare chair Alan Levine added that more than 70 members were receiving between £130 and £180 as a Pesach grant.

“They want to keep a kosher Pesach in a traditional way and we want to help them do that. Generally, our recipient list is increasing.”

Shimon Gillis, the manager of Gift, which will be distributing food parcels to 1,700 homes from Manchester to London over Pesach, said: “There are quite a lot of people who need help in Edgware, as well as in Borehamwood, and a significant amount in Essex.

“There has been a general increase in demand now that food prices are significantly higher than I’ve ever seen. We’re helping a lot of single mums and dads, a significant amount with long and short-term illnesses and a lot of people who have been made redundant. Also decreased benefits are not covering what they need.”

Manchester’s largest welfare charity, The Fed is administering a special poverty food fund from Manchester City Council to help in 13 cases but knows of many more families and vulnerable people needing Pesach support, particularly in the light of benefit cuts such as the bedroom tax.

Duvvi Klyne from Manchester’s L’Chaim Chabad Food Bank said the numbers helped had rocketed from a handful a few years ago to over 100 cases from across the religious spectrum.

“Some people on hourly wages can’t work over Passover and need assistance to get through. Ideally, there shouldn’t be anyone can’t do a Seder night because they can’t afford to.”

Jewish Care Scotland is helping 50 of the neediest members of the community and has set up a food bank in conjunction with Mark’s Deli.

In Scotland, the greatest demand was from those out of work, or whose benefits had been cut, said chief executive Suzanne Neville.

“Fifty people sounds like a small figure but considering the size of our community, it’s actually quite large.”

Merseyside Jewish Community Care chief executive Lisa Dolan said it was responding to increased financial hardship by making its communal Seder free of charge for the first time.

“People are recognising it is a difficult time and we have had overwhelming extra support for our Passover appeal.”

Rabbi Pinter pointed out that for large families, “you’ll need help with the cleaning. There are also a lot of expectations. You have to go out and buy new clothes. It’s also about the pressure to buy things. In Stamford Hill there are books filled with advertisements.”

The need for Pesach support in Stamford Hill has also been recognised by children and families charity Norwood, which has given 11 families in the area £200 apiece to help them through the festival. The £2,200 comes from the its community fund.

Jewish Care chief executive Simon Morris said the charity was offering Pesach support from communal Seders to “offering an affordable ‘take home’ kosher for Passover food service from our Golders Green campus and providing a kosher for Passover shop in our day centre in Redbridge”.

A London Beth Din (KLBD) spokesman said there were “countless practical and legal reasons why the KLBD could never set restrictions on the prices charged by kosher shops for food at Pesach.

For some people the cost of Pesach is prohibitive which is why US Chesed and many other communal charities run campaigns each year to help ease the burden for those who might not otherwise be able to enjoy a kosher Pesach.

“Happily, the cost of making Pesach is cheaper than it has ever been,” he claimed, “with greater competition between supermarkets and kosher grocery stores. KLBD is also playing its part.

"We recently achieved a KLBD Pesach logo on Tate & Lyle sugar which means that these products are kosher for Pesach but cost the same as they do all year round. We hope to extend this concept in coming years to many other staple products.”

Last updated: 2:34pm, April 3 2014