August 21, 2014   25 Av 5774
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Motel Meals
Mar. 29, 2013
A diverse population of Beth Chaim congregants regularly prepared and delivered 100-125 individually packaged dinners for 80-100 homeless individuals living in welfare motels.

Community Contact Information:
Congregation Beth Chaim
Princeton Junction, NJ
http://www.bethchaim.org


Goals:
- Provide meals to relieve hunger among local homeless population.
- Involve diverse demographic mix of congregants.
- Align our program with critical community needs by partnering with local non-profit organization.

Overview:
A diverse population of Beth Chaim congregants regularly prepared and delivered 100-125 individually packaged dinners for 80-100 homeless individuals living in welfare motels. We partnered with HomeFront to help relieve hunger, raise awareness, provide education and build community.

Preparation:
Motel Meals began in February 2011 in response to the dramatically increased homeless population in nearby welfare motels. HomeFront, the Mercer County, NJ, organization that serves homeless clients, asked that we replace our "8x8" family-style casseroles (provided in 8x8 disposable metal pans to HomeFront each month for many years) with a commitment to deliver critically needed full dinners directly to motels during the last week of the month when homeless parents run out of food stamps and fast in order to feed their children. A key element of our Tikkun Olam mission is to raise awareness of the need to feed the hungry within our community. HomeFront, our partner, asked its network of churches, synagogues and other groups to each select a delivery day of the week.
Most of the advance work has involved email communication with a growing roster of congregants that had previously participated and/or expressed interest. Ahead of each date, we have contacted prior supporters, followed by weekly reminders with specific instructions, items requested, dates/timing. These messages request a reply so that we can track incoming quantities including type of food, beverages, desserts and supplies/utensils and which volunteers are driving. In addition, the synagogue's regular eblast highlights this information to raise awareness among the entire congregation and encourage greater participation.
We have combined frequent communication, awareness raising and thanking of volunteers. We have taken photos, created blog posts for Beth Chaim's online newsletter and submitted press releases to various media, leading to articles and photos in several publications. We have shared press clips to generate enthusiasm and participation.

Project Implementation:
Beth Chaim's Motel Meals program, which ran from February 2011 through April 2012, accomplished several key goals: relieved hunger and raised awareness regarding poverty and homelessness in the community, while partnering with a local organization. The program's main component represented meal preparation and assembly by congregants, followed by delivery to the target population (typically 80-100) in welfare motels. For each of our motel meals dates ( last Wednesday of every other month), HomeFront provided an updated headcount.
However, since we realized that adults were fasting to provide food for their children, we regularly supplied approx. 110-125 nutritious meals when the requested quantity was 80-85. We also included desserts in order to provide an extra treat as well as surplus beverages. We asked each Tikkun Olam volunteer to supply enough dinners for at least 4-6 people or more, whatever they chose to provide and confirm in advance so that we could tally incoming quantities. Congregants cooked at home, then brought meals to Beth Chaim's kitchen where a group of 10-20 people reheated food if needed and packaged the meals into individual containers, then loaded everything into a couple of cars for transport to the motels located 20-30 minutes driving from the synagogue. Approx. 40-50 congregants of all ages from children through adults, varying by date, participated in several ways including: purchasing food, beverages, desserts and supplies, cooking at home, assembling meals/packaging dinners in Beth Chaim's kitchen, and driving to motels.

Results:
This program filled a critical need by relieving hunger at a critical time, just before month-end. The motel residents that we served were very appreciative when we brought their meals. This Tikkun Olam program became particularly popular at Beth Chaim, attracting the most diverse turnout of almost any activity within the synagogue, while deepening the connection of congregants to one another. Many congregants expressed appreciation for the opportunity to make a difference and asked to continue feeding the hungry even after the program ended as of April 2012 when the welfare motel population changed. As a result, we contacted HomeFront to determine other sources of need and then organized a snack drive in June 2012 for approx. 150 children attending HomeFront's day camp.
After the summer, Beth Chaim ran a Thanksgiving drive that resulted in meals and gift cards for 12 HomeFront families. Currently, we are organizing a new program beginning in January 2013 to prepare and deliver dinners for approx. 25 HomeFront children during regularly scheduled tutoring sessions. This program can be replicated at any synagogue located near a homeless population in motels, especially where a local non-profit organization is already dedicated to serving the same population.

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