One day last April 91 Islanders visited the Island Food Pantry. Each person collected their allotted three bags of donated food, which meant 273 bags were distributed in a single day. It was a record in the pantry’s 30-year history.
That number is expected to climb in the coming year, pantry director Armen Hanjian said this week.
It’s one of the poignant lessons he will teach next Wednesday when a group of Hebrew Center students deliver what has historically been the largest donation of the year to the food pantry in United Methodist Church in Vineyard Haven. With the help of the Hebrew Center donations, the food pantry will be fully stocked and ready to open its doors on Oct. 17.
The High Holy Days Hunger Project began this week during the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, a time to start a fresh and sweet new year. Yom Kippur begins today and offers Jews a time to reflect upon the last year and atone for misgivings. Paper bags for the hunger project were donated by Cronig’s Market and distributed during high holiday services.
Mr. Hanjian said each year he reflects on the donation program and its correlation to the holidays.
“It’s one of the community responses to the biblical directives to be caring for those in need,” he said. “It’s a wonderful community . . . there’s a lot of caring and learning.”
Hebrew school director Nicole Cabot said this week the food drive benefits all involved — needy Islanders benefit from the donations and the students engage in meaningful mitzvahs.
“I think that you can only learn by doing,” she said. “In the abstraction it sounds nice to donate food to the food pantry but for the kids to physically sweat and load 200 bags into a truck and load them and bring them into the food pantry, see what it is and how many people they service, that is the real lesson,” she said.
“I think in this day and age times are hard and the economy is shaky and people need food more than ever,” she continued. “I think that for the next generation to want to give, they need to feel what it’s physically like.”
Ms. Cabot said the food drive is a major part of their fall curriculum and ties in nicely with the fall holidays.
“You get to have a clean slate by doing good for others, it’s an appropriate way to start our year,” she said.
Every year Mr. Hanjian gives a report on the food pantry on the first night of Rosh Hashanah and connects it to rabbinic story.
This year’s story centered on a debate over why Mount Moriah was considered the holiest place by some rabbis. Mr. Hanjian chose a rabbi’s tale about two brothers to solve the argument.
The brothers worked on a grain threshing floor, and at the end of each day they would take an equal amount of grain home with them. One brother went home to a wife and 12 children; the other was alone. The brother who was alone had trouble sleeping because every night he would think to himself, “It isn’t right, my brother has 14 mouths to feed and I only have one.” Every night he would get up and take a portion of his grain and pour it into his brother’s share. The other brother had trouble sleeping because he thought to himself, “When I get older, I’ll have 12 children who care for me but my brother has none, he has to plan for his future.” So the older brother would go out and pour a portion of his grain into his brother’s.
One night the brothers ran into each other in the middle of the threshing floor. They dropped their bags of grain and fell into each other’s arms.
“That’s where my holy place will be,” the rabbi said. “Where people care as much about others as they do about themselves.”
The Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center Hunger Drive runs through Oct. 12. For information call 508-693-0745.