I hope you and your families are well and enjoying the high holiday season despite the many challenges the COVID-19 pandemic has brought all of us. Despite all the uncertainty and grief for many of us, I feel hopeful and fortunate to be leading an organization that is having such a significant impact in the lives of those who are desperate and struggling in some cases just to get food on their tables. Now more than ever, JFS’ work is making a profound difference in the lives of so many members of our community.
Since choosing Judaism as my religion over 30 years ago, my life has become in sync with the Jewish High Holidays. I look forward to this time of year because it is a time of renewal. I find the dedicated time I set aside each year for religious observance, time with family, and sharing special foods to be uplifting and meaningful.
Culture and religion have always played an important and central role in my life. As a first-generation Mexican American, my early life was filled with celebrations, including Christmas and Easter, but also Dia de los Muertos, recently popularized in the Pixar film “Coco.” Both my father and mother placed a strong emphasis on religious engagement. My mother expresses culture through cooking, and each holiday when I call back home, she lists all the traditional dishes that she has made. Sometimes I am lucky to be in California in December, and I can joyfully eat my mother’s tamales, which appear only at Christmas.
My life continues to be enriched by my Judaism; study, liturgy, prayers, and the rituals have added so much to my life and the lives of my family. When I was studying to become Jewish, I remember my rabbi explaining to me that the tradition of donating food at Yom Kippur was significant for Jews. The majority of American Jews observe a religious fast on Yom Kippur. This is the one time during the year that every Jew, whether rich or poor, physically feels hungry. The feeling of emptiness, headaches, and stomach pains are distressing, but temporary for most of us.
Influenced by my childhood experiences, I have found our collective Jewish response to hunger meaningful and important. I grew up in the Imperial Valley, which is between San Diego, California, and Yuma, Arizona, and borders Mexico. The valley is an agricultural region and supplies vegetables throughout the United States. The laborers work exceedingly hard, in rough conditions, and for low wages. Despite the abundance of food grown throughout the region, poverty and hunger are prevalent. I spent many summers in my youth working in those fields, understanding first-hand the impact of poverty on the workers. Each time we feed a meal to a member of our community who is having trouble affording a meal, I realize how fortunate I am to be leading an organization that is taking care of these members of our community.
In the past five years, JFS’ anti-poverty work in the Jewish community and our social justice work in the Metrowest immigrant community have become some of the most important work JFS accomplishes.
I want to share with you how proud I have been of our team of volunteers, staff and board members over the past several months. When the COVID-19 crisis hit unexpectedly in mid-March, our team performed phenomenally well. Fortunately, my 22 years in the Navy as an Annapolis-trained officer trained me how to manage through unexpected crises. I applied my Navy crisis training to our COVID-19 challenge and that allowed us to quickly identify what was required, what actions needed to be taken, what logistical support would be needed, and which additional resources outside of JFS would be required. Our highly systematic approach allowed us to put your invaluable contributions to use in highly effective and optimal ways. Here are some of the tangible results:
- Never before had fighting poverty been more crucial in our community. COVID-19’s economic impact created an unprecedented need for meals and other daily needed products.
- During the entire past year, we helped more than 500 families encompassing over 2,000 individuals.
- We distributed more than 50,000 meals and over 70,000 units of toiletries and sanitary products.
- An unexpected positive outcome from our COVID-19 efforts was that a number of other agencies in our area have now recognized our expertise in crisis and overall logistical delivery expertise. I expect their recognition will help us build more effective partnerships in the future, which will allow us to leverage even further critical delivery of services.
One of the most moving and impactful events we executed with our partner synagogues, CJP, staff, volunteers, and board members during the past week-and-a-half was the delivery of approximately 2,000 Rosh Hashanah meals to Jewish community members throughout Metrowest and Greater Boston. It was an awesome and meaningful way to begin the new year. Click here to learn more and see photos of this tremendous endeavor.
As we all reflect this week during the Days of Awe on how to make a difference in our communities, I ask you to give some serious thought in joining JFS in our efforts to help our most vulnerable community members during these unprecedented times. It is a mission we must accomplish.
With great respect, admiration, and thanks for your continued generosity as we navigate these uncharted waters. G’mar Tov and Shabbat Shalom.
Lino Covarrubias is CEO of JFS of Metrowest.
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