Oren Kaunfer began hearing about JewBer around Thanksgiving time. He signed up to volunteer and help pack some meals that week, donating his free time to ensure that people without Shabbat meals could receive a warm, happy meal for the celebratory night. But Kaunfer wanted to do more.

On Tuesday, Dec. 8, Kaunfer and his seventh grade advisory class at Jewish Community Day School (JCDS) in Watertown spent their period together packaging Hanukkah kits for close to 400 meals for low-income families, the elderly and Holocaust survivors in the Boston area to receive in conjunction with a delivery event put on by JewBer and Yad Chessed. Within 30 minutes, over 200 kits were created by the students.

“I think it’s an amazing opportunity, and I’m really happy the students could be involved,” Kaunfer said. “They were really excited. I think students love having an opportunity to do chessed in the community. Writing cards is always nice, but I think it’s more impactful when it’s hands-on.”

JewBer, whose mission is to bring Jewish experiences to those in need in the Boston area, partnered with Yad Chessed to deliver meals within the Greater Boston area on Dec. 10 and 11.

“This donor wanted to provide something to brighten our clients’ spirits and express to them that they are not alone,” said Nancy Kriegel, executive director of Yad Chessed. “We knew that we could only achieve this goal if we had a partner to help us with the logistics of delivering around 400 meals across our community.”

And that’s where JewBer came in.

(Courtesy photo)

“To hear the impact of JewBer on others is really what makes me wake up in the morning,” said Ana Sazonov, co-founder of the food delivery organization. “To know that we can make an impact on others’ lives is just tremendous.”

JewBer coordinated volunteer drivers, kit creation with Kaunfer’s JCDS students, food preparation with Dushez Catering and implementing the whole operation.

The need for nearly 400 meals was evident throughout the community, too.

“Even before the pandemic, there were people in our midst who were struggling financially and with food insecurity,” Kriegel said. “The pandemic, however, has resulted in a significant increase in the number of people who struggled; since the pandemic began, Yad Chessed has seen a doubling of inquiries for assistance.”

Volunteers met at three locations to pick up food to deliver. In Newton, people went to Dushez Catering, which provides the food for JewBer’s weekly events. Others met in the South Shore as well as in the North Shore area. Meals were delivered to low-income individuals and families within the I-95 corridor as far north as Saugus and as far south as Sharon.

“People were very nice and excited to see someone deliver them a nice, hot meal,” said Samantha Wechsler, a volunteer at JewBer and second-year graduate in Brandeis University’s social impact MBA and sustainable international development master’s programs.

(Courtesy photo)

Wechsler said how her grandmother has been receiving food assistance since the beginning of the pandemic. “I wanted to do that to someone else,” she said. “I think it’s a great way to volunteer and get involved.”

Kaunfer also delivered food on the first night of the event. While on his delivery shift, he called a former JCDS student who spoke Russian so that he could practice saying, “I am here with your meal.” 

“We’re definitely going to find more opportunities to work with JewBer,” Kaunfer said of his JCDS advisory.

Sazonov said she could not believe how far JewBer’s impact has come since the organization’s inception in April, recognizing the impact that the organization, along with Yad Chessed, made over the two days.

“Immediately after the first meals were delivered this past Thursday, Yad Chessed social workers began hearing from clients expressing their appreciation both for the gesture and for how delicious and beautifully prepared the meals were,” Kriegel said. “One of our clients sent the following note, which sums up the joyful gratitude: ‘I got the Hanukkah surprise yesterday! It was really good! I felt like I was at a wedding. Wow! They did a really nice job! Thank you.’”

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