What's Food Got To Do With It?

By Cynthia Bryant, LCSW

With CJFS’ unique blend of services, it’s puzzling, at first glance, that a Food Closet would be an important part of the mix.  We have a long history of providing counseling for all ages, and we specialize in providing care and support for older adults – helping families manage the difficult decisions and logistical challenges that often are part of the journey of aging.

So what does all of that have to do with the thousands of pounds of food we give away each year through the Food Closet?

In my first year at CJFS, I’ve found that providing food can be integral to our other services. As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, I serve some clients as a counselor and others as a care manager. As a therapist, I have seen how difficult it is to help a person emotionally when their basic human needs are not being met. If you ever took a basic psychology class, you might remember Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – the pyramid with physiological needs on the bottom, supporting “higher” needs such as safety and social relationships, which can be addressed only after the most basic needs have been met. 

I see it every day. Worrying about how you feel can seem like a luxury when you don’t have secure housing or regular meals – and this is true even for people with severe emotional issues.

If I am providing therapy for a client and I realize they have basic needs, I usually refer them to another CJFS staff member for case management. Sometimes, the need is so pressing that it has to be met that moment – like the diabetic client who was crashing before my eyes during a counseling session.

In case management, some clients simply run out of money before the end of the month.

“Rita,” for example, is in her 70s, living on just over $1,000 per month. About 30% of this goes toward her subsidized rent, and she qualifies for $16 per month in food stamps. If Rita can receive canned goods, toilet paper and other shelf goods from our Food Closet, then when she does go to the grocery store, she can buy fresh produce, meat and other items she otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford.

Another client, “Martha,” has been handicapped since birth. She’s in her 40s, and because she’s never been able to work, her monthly disability income is only about $750. Finding affordable and safe housing for Martha has been challenging, because she’s too young for senior subsidized housing – so most of her income goes to rent and utilities. Martha does qualify for $150 per month in food stamps, but it simply isn’t enough to get her to the end of the month. For Martha, the CJFS Food closet, on many days, is the difference between eating and not eating.

The problems faced by CJFS clients can be complex – but it’s always easier to find solutions when our clients know they’ll have enough to eat. 

Thank you for supporting the CJFS Food Closet. When you’re shopping and see a “buy-one, get-one” deal, keep one and bring one to the CJFS Donation Bin in the lobby of the Levite Jewish Community Center, 3900 Montclair Rd. And if you’re wondering what to buy, canned tuna, chicken, salmon and juice-packed fruits – as well as toilet tissue, toothpaste and paper towels – are always welcome!