Being raised by parents who preached that giving back to the community meant more than donating money, it also means offering your time, Lawrence resident Shlomo Katz has taken that lesson to heart.
“My family is actively involved in Hatzalah for many, many years and we’ve run the Passover Tomshei Shabbos food distribution from our kitchen for the last 30 years,” said Katz, a principal of Lawrence-based Elite Caterers, as he stood in the parking lot of Lawrence School District’s Broadway Campus on Aug. 12. “So, I’ve been in these houses where there is food insecurity, and it’s just amazing to see what helping another person can do and what’s it like.”
Katz and roughly 50 of his employees are now working in conjunction with the school district to provide up to 21,000 households with food every Wednesday that can be transformed into seven breakfasts and seven lunches for the families.
Since May when the district and Elite signed a contract, $3 million worth of food has been distributed to Five Towns residents and people from surrounding communities, including Far Rockaway, Merrick, Oceanside, Uniondale and West Hempstead, according to Lawrence’s Assistant Superintendent for Operations and Business Jeremy Feder.
“The federal government and by extension New York state mandated that students should be eating,” Feder said, referring to the physical shutdown of school because of the coronavirus pandemic. “We started right as the pandemic and Lawrence was very quick to get going. In the middle of May we expanded the Whitsons’ food distribution to include a kosher option, We reached out to caterers and found a local caterer, Elite Caterers, and signed contract and since then we’ve been serving food to anyone whose wanted.”
Industrial mass production never looked or tasted this good. The vehicles turn off Broadway onto the Lawrence campus that houses the elementary school and the middle school, moving slowly in two lanes that becomes one.
The vehicles then split off toward the canopied stations that houses the food. Elite employees and a few volunteers place bags of food and milk in the peoples’ cars. The motorists then drive back to Broadway and away they go. There is also a station for walkups. Vehicles and people come in 15-minute intervals.
Katz said that packing the food begins on Sunday and might not be finished until Tuesday depending on other jobs or the weather. The food is loaded into bins then onto three refrigerated tractor trailers and two freezer tractor trailers and five other refrigerated trucks, he said.
Work begins at 6 or 7 a.m. and usually does not stop until 7:30 p.m. “It all goes according to the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) guidelines,” Katz said, “there needs to be a green, a protein, fruit, a vegetable and milk.”
He noted that because the way the food package is designed with the fruit being separate, the program can offer participants what is called “offer versus serve,” which in this case allows families to take only the amount of milk they truly need as opposed to the government equation that would require a family with six children to take 120 ounces milk. What Katz called “an overwhelmingly amount.”
“So, when I drove out here I saw milk standing out in the street,” he said, when the food distribution got under way. “So, the government was very good and they worked with us. [The families] take as much milk as they want and we don’t have waste it works very, very nicely.”
Longtime Lawrence Board of Education Trustee Dr. David Sussman like many of his board colleagues volunteers to place the food in the cars, where everyone, motorists and passengers included wear masks, the workers and volunteers also wear gloves.
“People are hungry, its Covid, and I think it’s great, I really do,” Sussman said about the distribution. “Hunger doesn’t know from anything except that you want to get feed, and if we could help it’s a wonderful thing. We truck in the food, there are jobs for the community and at the same time its doing a wonderful thing for the community. What more could you ask for.”
Cedarhurst resident Syd Mandelbaum, the CEO and founder of Rock and Wrap It Up! said that many people donate their food to his organization. “Three families worth of milk, juice, chocolate milk,” he said.. “We give it out at our Veterans Farmers Market." Gural JCC Associate Executive Director Stacey Feldman said that people are also donating what they cannot use to its Rina Shkolnik Kosher Food Pantry.
Feder said there were several permutations of the setup and Katz noted that the operation has been a smooth one. “We got tremendous support from the Lawrence Union Free School District and members of the board and Jeremy Feder,” Katz. I am just really grateful and I thank God that we’ve been able to be involved in it.”