Food for Shabbos is something many of us take for granted. But in these hard times, do you ever think about some of your neighbors—the man who sits two rows behind you in shul, the lady you carpool with on Sundays, the kid who sits next to yours in yeshiva… Over 250 families in our own neighborhood are unemployed, or alone, or elderly, struggling to make ends meet. What will they put on their Shabbos tables?
When Mordechai and Esther set up the mitzvos of Purim they included mishloachmanos to bring achdus (unity) to the Jewish people. But as our social circles widen, the mishloachmanos can get out of hand, leading to a lot of food that goes to waste right before Pesach. This year, make your theme “Care About Each Other” by sending your friends attractive, newly designed Tomchei Shabbos Purim cards.
It’s black and white in the Rambam: “One should spend on matanos l’evyonim more than on mishloachmanos or the Purim seudah. By gladdening the poor, one emulates Hashem” (2:17). Purim cards are a simple way to spend more on tzedakah and less on mishloach manos.
Instead of sending your friends food packages, you can send them Tomchei Shabbos Purim cards, and show that you care about them, and also about the needy of our own neighborhood. Halachically, those who purchase cards are still obligated to send one package of food and two gifts to the poor on Purim day, but cards can help us to include everyone on our list, while the food packages are redirected to those who really need the help.
Every Thursday night of the year, and every erevyomtov, a dedicated group of teenage girls busily pack food into boxes—all the ingredients of a tasty Shabbos meal. Under the cover of darkness, with the utmost discretion, volunteer drivers deliver those boxes to the doorsteps of carefully screened recipients. Many of these people haven’t had a decent meal all week. They and their children look forward eagerly to the bit of onegShabbos this carton contains. Most importantly, when they see this package, they know they have neighbors who care about them.
It all started several years ago in a trailer. Despite the affluence for which our community is famous, some people in Far Rockaway and the Five Towns could not afford the basic staples necessary for Shabbos and yomtov. Packages of food were assembled by volunteers and sent out with volunteer drivers. As word of the program spread, it outgrew the trailer and several other locations, and is currently based at the Torah Academy for Girls in Far Rockaway (TAG).
There are many Jewish neighborhoods which have Tomchei Shabbos programs, but Tomchei Shabbos Yad Yeshaya is the only organization providing food here in the Five Towns and Rockaways. Today, Tomchei Shabbos Yad Yeshaya of the Five Towns and Rockaways, named in memory of Yeshaya Alpert, z’l, services more than 250 local families from our area—from elderly shut-ins and immigrants from the former Soviet Union to struggling families who live in Far Rockaway, Long Beach, Lawrence, Cedarhurst, and Woodmere. Every Thursday night, even during school vacations, a group of TAG students assembles the packages.
Packages are grouped in different sizes to accommodate everyone—from a senior living alone to a family with many children. A typical Shabbos package includes challah, grape juice, chicken, gefilte fish, eggs, cake, apples, potatoes, and juice. Cooked food is sent to those who are disabled and cannot prepare the food themselves. Sometimes food companies donate additional items, which are used to supplement the regular packages.
Packages are sent out every Thursday night for Shabbos, and there are additional deliveries before every holiday. A catered meal is provided for the Purim seudah, and many cases of staples are delivered to each recipient family before Pesach.
The delivery routes are carefully planned to assure the kavod of the recipients. For example, Woodmere volunteer drivers deliver in Far Rockaway, while volunteers from Far Rockaway are sent to Lawrence and Cedarhurst. The drivers generally do not know to whom they are delivering. The deliveries are done carefully, so as not to embarrass anyone.
Each family that receives packages from Tomchei Shabbos Yad Yeshaya must be recommended by a sponsor, usually a local rabbi or community activist familiar with the case. The need is great.
“Aniyei ircha kodmim”—the poor of our own neighborhood are a priority when it comes to allocating our tzedakah. You too can have a share in this enormous and vital mitzvah.
Popular hostess, condolence, and gift cards announcing your donation to Tomchei Shabbos Yad Yeshaya can be ordered year round from Mrs. Vivienne Frank at 718-327-3038.
Purim cards are available in convenient packages of 10, 36, 50, and 200 from the following locations: Cedarhurst, Edana Tuchman (516-791-0987); Far Rockaway, Sima Krischer (718-471-8974); Lawrence, Joy Paley (516-603-2531); Woodmere, Marilyn Blau (516-295-1175); Bayswater, Judy Merlis (718-327-5294); and Ohel Sara Amen Group, Vivienne Frank (718-327-3038).
For more information or to make a contribution, please contact Tomchei Shabbos Yad Yeshaya of the Five Towns and Rockaways, 634 Oak Drive, Far Rockaway, NY 11691 or call 718-327-7283.