As Jewish households fill their tables with all manner of delicacies during the most festive month of the Hebrew calendar, organizations the world over are striving to make sure that those who might otherwise have gone to bed hungry have what to celebrate.

In the South American nation of Brazil, that effort takes place as part of an 18-year campaign to help S. Paulo’s hundreds of men, women and children fight hunger with dignity and respect. Undertaken by Ten Yad, a Chabad-Lubavitch run soup kitchen in Brazil’s largest city, the war on hunger takes on greater urgency this time of year, when the Jewish New Year of Rosh Hashanah is followed quickly by elaborate post-Yom Kippur break-fasts and the weeklong festival of Sukkot.

“In Brazil, some people are very rich while others don’t have enough to eat,” says Rabbi Toive Weitman.

Weitman’s father, Rabbi Dovid Weitman, directs Ten Yad, which he founded with a small group of Jewish families in 1992. Since that time, the organization’s client base has grown more than 10-fold and now includes non-Jewish residents of the city.

“We serve everybody who needs help,” says Weitman, “poor families and people who had money, but lost it because of the economy.”

At the heart of Ten Yad – its Hebrew name translates to “lend a hand” – is a group of devoted volunteers who help the organization carry out its mission throughout the year, including holidays. An event recently honored the more than 450 adults and teenagers who donate their time; the dinner at the Buffet Leopoldo in S. Paulo featured a unique kind of auction in which people bid volunteer hours instead of money.

This year’s Ten Yad dinner featured a special auction in which people bid volunteer hours instead of money.
This year’s Ten Yad dinner featured a special auction in which people bid volunteer hours instead of money.

“We wanted to reach a certain number of hours, and we accomplished our goal within the first few minutes,” says Weitman.

In addition to the hot three-course meals served at its soup kitchen, Ten Yad uses other strategies to provide needy individuals with food. It runs a “meals on wheels” program for the homebound elderly, distributes food baskets of staple goods for households with several children, provides weekly dairy breakfast and dinner kits with ready-to-consume basics, delivers meat and poultry packages, and underwrites food stamps and vouchers. Every Thursday night, younger volunteers deliver special packages containing provisions for weekend meals.

For those who need more than physical sustenance, social workers offer counseling and guidance. Clothing for needy families is also readily at hand, as well as assistance for brides who cannot afford the accoutrements of a customary Jewish wedding. Anonymous financial aid is given in the form of emergency loans and educational scholarships.

At the soup kitchen, Ten Yad also provides a leisure room for clients, and Naar Yisrael Nursery, where children whose parents are struggling can receive emotional support and basic care.

According to Weitman, the organization, which is a multiple recipient of Brazil’s “Bem Eficiente Award” for efficiency in providing non-profit social services, will soon be moving to a new 4,000-square-foot building to house its growing list of programs.