What started with 25 boxes four months ago now includes 100 packages of non-perishable goods and a waiting list of needy families across the Midtown Manhattan section of New York City. And according to Rabbi Noach Heber, director of the Chabad Relief Project, the effort by Chabad-Lubavitch of Midtown to feed those who are having trouble putting food on the table shows no signs of letting up.

The project’s food drive event last Wednesday night brought together wholesalers, corporations and other organizations that provided a variety of nutritional staples, and a long table of volunteers at Chabad of the Plaza District on 57th Street. The volunteers packed bran flakes, gefilte fish, tuna, apple juice, and canned fruits and vegetables, as well as sliced turkey into boxes they had just assembled.

“We need a volunteer at each of the food stations, and the rest of you will take a box and roll it down the table,” Heber instructed the nearly 30 volunteers.


As they labeled and stacked boxes, they loaded them into cars and started sending volunteers on delivery loops.

“I expect at the end of the year we should be feeding thousands of people,” said Heber, explaining that he wants people to know that there is a place they can turn if they’re going through hard times. “It’s important to take care of someone’s physical needs before their spiritual needs.”

Erica Weiss, 27, of Chelsea, got involved on the project’s ground level after meeting Heber at a Sabbath dinner. Working tirelessly on everything from volunteer outreach to dividing volunteers into lists and cars, she said she’s passionate about the group’s work and the connections she has made through being involved in the project. She returns to visit, for example, her “adopted grandmother,” a woman she brought a box to once and now sees weekly.

Weiss spoke fondly of the 96-year-old, who lives on the Upper West Side, and the relationship they’ve developed.

“I bring her special boxes,” said Weiss. “I vamp her box up, because I know what she likes and what she doesn’t like.”

The visits are just as much about relationships as they are about providing food, agreed Keren Weiss, 25. She requested to return to the home of a 93-year-old Polish woman she had spoken with on her last volunteer voyage. The woman welcomed her into the apartment and wanted to make her tea.

“She wanted to talk about her family and show me pictures,” said Weiss, adding that they connected over their shared European roots. “It’s nice to be able to bond over that.”

The boxes of food include canned fruits and vegetables, and other sundry items.
The boxes of food include canned fruits and vegetables, and other sundry items.

A Family Affair

Binyomin Dubroff, a project administrator who works with the students, young professionals and families on the Chabad Relief Project and other Midtown programs, calls the effort the start of something big. He looks forward to the project growing out of its current location and into a warehouse setting, with weekly or bi-weekly deliveries supplanting the current monthly drives.

“You’d think that in the city people don’t need food, but the truth is, there are needy people everywhere,” said Dubroff.

Edan Harari, 32, who lives in Manhattan and works as a medical massage therapist, found out about the volunteer opportunity through a friend. He felt it was powerful to be able to help provide people with something as necessary as food. After packing boxes with the group, he set out in one of the cars delivering the boxes around the city.

“When you live in contribution and you are giving to others, you are doing what I feel our purpose is here in the world,” he said.

Other volunteers similarly heard about the project by word of mouth, at a Sabbath meal, or as part of various Chabad activities geared to young professionals. Sara Lenowitz, 22, said she was glad to see so many people there, adding that she values the atmosphere Chabad creates.

“It’s so nice and warm,” she said. “I don’t think you find that everywhere.”

She’ll be on the lookout for more volunteer events, she added. “I wish they had more of them.”

Daniel and Leora Rosenberg, who have helped see the efforts from a vision to their current iteration, have been telling their daughters Natasha, 8, and Mikayla, 5, about the volunteer project for about a year. This time, they brought the girls along.

“We thought they should be exposed to a bunch of selfless Jews getting together to help the less fortunate,” said Daniel Rosenberg.

It’s an example they’re proud to set for the girls, explained Leora Rosenberg. “You hope the little eyes and ears are going to be listening and following in your footsteps, as we did to our parents.”

Gabi Todd, 12, of Brooklyn, came with her mother and 13-year-old brother to be part of the project. In addition to helping people get food, she likes getting to make people happy.

She said she hopes more kids will get on board: “They should do it because it makes you feel really good inside. You know you changed the other person’s life, too.”