Pinks feed the Midlands masses

'We’re giving them the feeling that they’ve not been forgotten', said the Solihull Hebrew Congregation rabbi


West Midlands Mayor Andy Street visits local organisations. Andy visits Solihull and District Hebrew Congregation.

 A West Midlands rabbinic couple are cooking up a storm each week to feed close to 100 people in their community.

Demand for the culinary services of Solihull Hebrew Congregation’s Rabbi Yehuda and Dinie Pink during the pandemic has dramatically increased costs from £12k per annum to around £90k, with expensive kitchen upgrades required.

Pre-Covid, their long-running Solihull Thursday Club offered senior citizens a place to meet and enjoy a hot meal prepared by volunteers.

When the pandemic forced the club to close last April, the couple — who have served the congregation for 27 years — launched a service to deliver meals to vulnerable and isolated people across the Midlands.

“We call it ‘Home but not alone…More than just a meal’, because the core of all of it is we’re not just giving them something to eat; we’re giving them the feeling that they’ve not been forgotten,” Rabbi Pink explained.

Because of the stresses of the past year, “people have aged tremendously — the isolation, the loneliness, the inability to socialise”.

The children and grandchildren of many of those in small communities were now living in London or Manchester.

“They would normally see their grandchildren every so often and now they’re stuck.”

So it was “absolutely heart-warming” to see images of them smiling as the volunteers knocked on their door to deliver the meals. But it took “every drop of effort to keep the programme going”.

The Thursday Club had a pre-pandemic membership of about 30. The team is currently feeding triple that number in Solihull, Leamington, Warwick, Kenilworth, Stratford-upon-Avon, Stourbridge, Stourport and Birmingham.

Its increased budget is partly because Rabbi Pink needed to invest around £45,000 to install a cold store, a 20-grid combi oven and other equipment to enable the production and packing of meals.

“Reasonable amounts of funding” have been received from the National Lottery and the shul was recently awarded £10,000 by Solihull Council. A November crowdfunding campaign also boosted the coffers.

All the meals are made from scratch weekly by the rabbi and his wife. There is a £10 charge although around a third of customers do not pay because of their circumstances.

Running such an effort in the Midlands presents additional challenges, such as sourcing kosher ingredients. With nowhere local to access wholesale supplies, they have to make a monthly trip to London to “stock up on a couple of hundred chickens”.

Rabbi Pink was buoyed by the community spirit of his team of 15 volunteers, non-Jews among them.

“We’ve got people who would never have anything to do with a synagogue until now who are coming to volunteer just because they like helping other people.”

And the service had brought some back into the fold, including a 97-year-old who the rabbi said resigned from the shul in protest 30 years ago over the Shabbat closure of a car park. Now “he’s one of our biggest fans and can’t wait to get into his kosher meal”.

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