For many years, Coordinator of Kosher Nutrition for Jewish Collaborative Services Neal Drobnis and his team provided seniors, in their homes or at the Dwares JCC or Temple Sinai, delicious and nutritious lunches to enjoy five days a week. That’s continued even since COVID-19 hit, though in different formats.
When Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo imposed strict pandemic-related restrictions, Neal was out-of-town on vacation celebrating his birthday. Nevertheless, Dwares JCC Site Manager for Kosher Nutrition Elaine Shapiro and volunteers immediately swung into action to continue to provide meals to those in need while adhering to state mandates.
Deb Blazer’s Accounting for Taste catering company prepares the Kosher Meals on Wheels hot lunches in Temple and Kosher kitchen and Freda Baer’s Ahava Catering prepares cold meals at the Providence Hebrew Day School for Blackstone Health.
Neal, Elaine, and Site Associate Maxine Wolfson coordinate the volunteers who deliver Kosher Meals on Wheels meals to about 30 individuals at their homes, as they did even before COVID-19. “Rather than daily, we now deliver two meals each on Mondays and Wednesdays and one meal on Fridays, so everyone still gets five full meals each week,” said Neal. “That reduces exposure to COVID-19 for our volunteers and the meals’ recipients.”
On the same schedule, these same volunteers also deliver the Blackstone Health-sponsored cold meals to another 40 or so seniors, from East Greenwich to Pawtucket and Rumford to North Providence. “I am so grateful to Sam Abrams, Laura Strauss, and Billy Rose for helping us deliver meals time and time again whenever we ask for their help,” said Neal.
“Life is wonderful because you keep us supplied with lunches,” Maxine Cohen wrote to Neal in an email she agreed to share with JCS readers. “No one has to worry about us.” Maxine and her husband, Avram, recently celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary.
“We are a community that cares about people,” said Neal. “We want things to get better so that people can come back.” That’s why, from the very earliest days, volunteers called the 150 individuals, whose phone numbers Neal had, to check in with them and assess their needs. “Early on, everyone was on edge and happy to get the phone calls,” said Neal, noting that those individuals who were getting out more didn’t need calls. Neal also regularly distributes – by mail and email – a newsletter that updates folks about upcoming virtual events and suggestions for ways to stay in touch.
“Thank you for getting me on Zoom this morning,” wrote Beverly Paris to Neal in an email she agreed to share. “Rabbi (Alvan) Kaunfer was very nice and the Torah readings were very informative… I look forward to getting your emails.”
Even with communal gatherings on hold, Neal is working night and day to keep people engaged. Zoom has been a lifeline for yoga classes, book discussions, virtual tours of museums and Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam, as well as presentations by JCS’s Jewish Eldercare of Rhode Island Program Coordinator Susie Adler and local rabbis.
“In some measure, you are enabling us to maintain our independent way of life. Your programs are wonderful,” wrote Maxine Cohen. “It is wonderful to be intellectually challenged. No one humors us and places us on the inactive shelf.”
While the Jewish Community Center is open now, no senior centers are open. “We’re not going to re-open the Kosher Senior Café – which served lunches five days a week and included an entertainment or education component – until the Rhode Island Office of Healthy Aging gives us approval to do so,” said Neal. “I can’t imagine that senior centers will open until there is a vaccine.”
To get more information about volunteering or participating in Zoom programming, call Neal at 401.331-1244.