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Mitzvah #2: Give Matanot Le’evyonim

What are matanot le’evyonim?

Matanot le’evyonim (literally, gifts to the poor) is a core mitzvah of Purim. In modern times, this can take the form of direct presents, but it’s more commonly fulfilled by donating money to an organization that specifically focuses on food insecurity. 

What does “food insecurity” mean?

Food insecurity is defined as a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life. People experiencing food insecurity may not know when or where their next meal will come from, and may be struggling to meet their other household expenses such as rent, utilities, insurance, or medical bills—even before adding in their grocery budget. 

Why should I care about food insecurity? I have so many other causes I care about and give to.  

On a day in which we celebrate with feasts towards the goal of overindulgence, we make sure to consider those who cannot afford their own Purim meal. In fact, Purim is the only Jewish holiday that has the commandment of giving as one of its core principles. 

In the spirit of Matanot Le’evyonim, we encourage you to examine how you give.

Food for Thought

As you reflect on your giving habits, ask yourself these questions to fully consider what it means to give.

  • There is a custom to give whenever you are asked on Purim. What would/does it mean to give every time you are asked during the year?
  • Do you respond differently when you are being asked to give to an individual (i.e. someone on the subway), than when you are asked to give to an institution (i.e. a charitable organization)? If so, why do you feel differently about these types of “asks”?
  • Why can it sometimes feel uncomfortable to be told when and how to give? Why do the rabbis ensure that there is specifically a time to give food to those who need it?
  • Does scale and proximity matter? What does it mean to give to local individuals and organizations as opposed to giving to large national or global causes?
  • Why would one give to an organization that limits the allocation of your money, as opposed to just always giving cash?

The Impact of COVID-19 on Food Insecurity

The COVID-19 pandemic and resultant economic crisis have made New York City’s hunger crisis even worse. Food insecurity has surged 36 percent citywide during the pandemic—and 46 percent among children, according to Feeding America. But hunger doesn’t fall equally across the city. It hits particularly hard in the communities of color that have been disproportionately harmed by decades of policy inequities and systemic failures.

Public Benefits are Insufficient: Even for households eligible for food stamps (also known as SNAP benefits), the average benefit per person in 2020 was about $121 per month, which equals less than $1.40 per person per meal. The average cost of a meal in New York is $3.31.

Emergency Food in NYC: Each year, an estimated 1.4 million New York City residents rely on emergency food programs, including soup kitchens and food pantries.

Read more about how BJ helps community members who are food insecure.

Where to Donate

Please consider making a donation this Purim to one of these New York City organizations that focus on alleviating the food insecurity suffered by so many of our New York neighbors. 

City Harvest: New York City’s largest food rescue organization helps to feed New Yorkers who are struggling to put meals on their tables by rescuing 111 million pounds of food in the last year and delivering it, free of charge, to hundreds of food pantries, soup kitchens and other community partners across the five boroughs. The organization also advocates at the city, state, and federal level for policies and actions to alleviate hunger and food insecurity, and to ensure access to healthy and affordable food for all New Yorkers. Make a contribution here.

The Food Bank for New York City: Almost 20 percent of New Yorkers rely on the Food Bank for food and other resources as it works to mitigate hunger in the five boroughs. Its vast network of more than 1,000 charities and schools throughout the city provide approximately 80 million free meals per year for New Yorkers in need. Food Bank For New York City’s income support services provides food stamps (also known as SNAP) and free tax assistance for low-income New Yorkers.  Make a contribution here.

Hunger Free NYC: A subsidiary of Hunger Free America, the nonpartisan, national nonprofit organization that builds the movement to enact policies and programs needed to end domestic hunger and ensure that all Americans have sufficient access to nutritious food, focuses on New Yorkers in need. Hunger Free NYC assists thousands of low-income families with receiving food aid from government programs such as SNAP and WIC (nutrition benefits for pregnant women and children under five). Make a contribution here.

Met Council: Met Council’s network of 101 food pantries, 20 affordable housing sites, and 15 JCCs provide direct services for more than 300,000 people in neighborhoods across New York. In addition to running the largest free kosher distribution program in the world, the Met Council also provides programs ranging from affordable housing, a family violence program, comprehensive Holocaust survivor assistance, senior programming, and crisis intervention. Make a contribution here.

West Side Campaign Against Hunger (WSCAH): This longtime partner of BJ strives to alleviate hunger by ensuring that all New Yorkers have access with dignity to a choice of healthy food and supportive services. WSCAH’s street market offers New Yorkers a choice of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, protein, and dairy, and has expanded its choice offerings in partnerships with like-minded, community-based organizations in Northern Manhattan and The Bronx. WSCAH serves approximately 80,000 customers with approximately 4.4 million pounds of food every year. Make a contribution here

Leket Israel, Israel’s National Food Bank: Though the organization is not based in New York, learning about it serves as a reminder that there’s food insecurity around the world. In Israel, Leket rescues 55 million pounds of surplus, high-quality food annually from hundreds of farms, hotels, corporate caterers, and IDF army bases that otherwise would go to waste. The food is distributed weekly to more than 250 non-profits feeding 225,000 Israelis of all backgrounds. Make a contribution here.

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Written By Dani Kogan

Dani Kogan joins the team at BJ’s Center for Prayer and Spirituality having previously worked in program planning for various Jewish non-profits and as a Hillel and Hebrew school educator. She has ...

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