How the United Synagogue delivers support to the growing number in need

A slick operation is supplying food and other essentials to people across London, including many impacted by the pandemic


At the outset of the pandemic, young North Londoner Joel Azulay was both furloughed and off university until the new academic year.

“I had nothing to do and I’m not one for being a couch potato all the time,” said the 19-year-old, who is president of the Queen Mary University J-Soc.

So he became a volunteer “schlepper” for the United Synagogue’s food and essential items support operation for those in need.

Now he is part of a slick operational team convening on Wednesday mornings to pack provisions in the outdoor car park at the US’s headquarters.

People have been “really keen to help”, said Michelle Minsky, who has fronted the US Chesed initiative after seeing the need for food aid rise among the community at Pesach.

The majority of recipients are either unemployed or shielding because of age or health concerns.

“Their life has obviously reached a difficult point and I think that does tug at people’s heartstrings.”

Ms Minsky told the JC that the project had evolved into a sophisticated set-up, with drivers delivering parcels to up to 100 households each week.

Packages included fruit and vegetables, milk, cheese and eggs, toiletries and household items. There were also freshly-cooked meals.

Karen Moss, a community support co-ordinator at Borehamwood and Elstree Synagogue, was among those collecting goods.

Borehamwood is the US’s largest community — and also the biggest recipient of the support scheme.

Ms Moss said her car was “loaded to the brim” with parcels every week. “We’re just trying to do what we can.”

Referrals were rising, with some families on universal credit unable to pay their rent or afford sufficient food for their needs. Some were also relying on food banks as well as the supplies from the US.

The gratitude displayed by many of the recipients was “amazing”, Ms Moss added. “There is an elderly gentleman who is a Holocaust survivor and has been through so much hardship in his life. He was so overwhelmed and said he’d never received such kindness and giving, which was very special to hear.”

Speaking anonymously, a beneficiary of the US scheme said: “I don’t know how to truthfully express our gratitude to you all for keeping us going over the past few months. Corona hit us like an unexpected tornado and literally knocked every part of our lives.

“At our lowest point, you and the entire United Synagogue team were there to catch us and hold us up. You kept our cupboards full and a roof over our heads. We wouldn’t have survived without you.”

The US says it has spent around £110,000 on food, items such as fridges and Tupperware to store supplies and on printing ingredient labels for the freshly-cooked meals.

Ms Minsky intends to keep the initiative going for as long as feasible. The need had always been there, “although Covid has brought it to the fore”.

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