A new initiative called Ladles of Love launches this weekend to bring volunteers together one Sunday each month to prepare and deliver kosher meals to elderly or ill homebound individuals.
Nicki Kaplan, a social worker and mom, developed the program during her two-year Valley Beit Midrash StartMeUp! fellowship, which she completed in April.
Through this initiative, volunteers will meet at the East Valley JCC once a month, beginning this Sunday, to prepare a nutritious kosher meal in the morning that will be delivered by volunteer drivers in the afternoon.
This is a partnership among Valley Beit Midrash; the Bureau of Jewish Education (BJE), who is administering the program; and the East Valley JCC, who is providing the use of its kosher kitchen, equipment and utensils.
The EVJCC kitchen was kashered on May 23 and is supervised by the Greater Phoenix Vaad Hakashruth, according to Rabbi Michael Beyo, EVJCC CEO/executive director.
The partnership with Ladles of Love represents the launch of the EVJCC’s new kitchen program, called Beteavon, which is Hebrew for “Bon Appetit.” The facility’s kitchen was previously unused and after Beyo started at the EVJCC in November 2015, he was determined to put it in use for programs, events and social action projects. He had mentioned this to Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz, Valley Beit Midrash president and dean, who put him in touch with Kaplan, who was working on developing Ladles of Love.
“We united forces and I think this shows the amazing opportunity that exists when organizations collaborate,” Beyo said. Other plans for the kitchen include cooking classes, camp, parties, social programs and other social action projects, he said.
Valley Beit Midrash and EVJCC are providing funds to purchase food for Ladles of Love and the EJVCC is seeking donations of unused kitchen utensils such as soup pots, cutting boards and mixing bowls for its kitchen, as well as monetary donations to be used toward the Beteavon program.
The first group of volunteers – which for now is capped at 20 – will be from ACT (Action, Connect, Think), a BJE social action group for Jewish adults in their 20s and 30s led by Andre Ivory, Kaplan said. Future dates are July 24, Aug. 7, Sept. 11, Oct. 30, Nov. 13 and Dec. 18 and anyone middle-school age and older can participate, Kaplan said.
Kaplan said the idea of Ladles of Love is based on Project Chicken Soup, a program in Los Angeles where she volunteered as a college student. “I thought it would be something great to bring here.”
Volunteers provide a friendly interaction with the person receiving the meals, she said, which is a key component.
Kaplan, a member of Temple Chai, had been involved with ACT and said she approached Ivory to participate because she thought what he was trying to do with ACT played into the values of this program. For now, Ivory is assisting with the intake, answering phone calls to note medical issues, dietary restrictions and allergies. Each meal will include a meat entree, a side, soup and a dessert. Vegetarian options will also be available, Ivory said.
“The real core of what we’re providing is the ladle of soup,” Ivory said. “Those comfort foods that really make people feel at home. In some ways, it’s a call to let them know that the Jewish community really does have them on their radar, that they really do care and really want to give them access to what they need.”
The initial outreach was done through the BJE’s Passover food drive, Ivory said, with information about Ladles of Love being distributed to those who received the Passover meals. Jewish Family & Children’s Service and the Deutsch Family Shalom Center at Temple Chai helped identify some of the recipients.
“The phone conversations that I’ve had just in doing the intake has been amazing,” Ivory said. “People come to tears over the phone.”
About 50-70 people are expected to receive meals on June 5, Ivory said, with the core of recipients living in the Central Phoenix area. The goal is to serve about 150-200 people each month.
“I think Nicki has identified a real significant need,” Ivory said. “I believe in her idea. I think this is what we should be doing as a community.”