Mazon is a Jewish Response to Everybody's Hunger
Every year during the Jewish High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah, my synagogue hands out brown grocery bags. During the ten days between the start of the Days of Awe and Yom Kippur, one of the things we do is fill that bag (and hopefully a few more) and return them Yom Kippur. The food that is collected is divided into Kosher and non-Kosher groups, with the Kosher items being donated to our local Jewish Federation food bank and the rest to a local secular food bank.
In addition, on the tables in front of the sanctuary, there is literature about Mazon. Over the years, it has become one of my favorite places to give a donation, as they are helping others no matter what religion they practice. There are many in this country who are food insecure-they do not know if the meal that they are eating will be their last. Mazon wants to have that end in a country that is so full of plenty.
Mazon's History and Mission
Tzedakah and Tikkun OlamCredit: By U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate 3rd Class Christopher Elmini [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Mazon, which means “sustenance” in Hebrew, is a Jewish response to hunger that was founded as a grassroots organization in 1985 by Leonard Fein. Jewish families, when totaled together, were spending many millions of dollars on celebrations such as weddings and bar/bat mitzvahs. Fein had an idea that, what if those giving the party voluntarily gave 3% of what it cost to have it to charity?
The first year raised over $163,00 and the second raised $558,000. The third year took it to the million dollar level. Each year, the money raised rises…but so does the number of people it has to support.
In the words of Mr. Fein, written in 1988 during Mazon’s third year of existence, he wrote:
"First, we learn, as we come closer to the facts of hunger (especially in the United States) that hunger is not so much a tragedy as it is a scandal (there being, in fact, enough food for all). And because that is so, the problem of hunger is not a problem that can readily be solved by charity. Hunger exists not because food is lacking, but because the will to justice is lacking."
Mazon's mission is to end hunger among all people throughout the United States and in Israel.
While it is a Jewish organization, it does not limit itself by only helping Jews. In fact, most of the organizations who receive grants and other forms of help are not connected to Judaism at all.
Why is this?
It is a central part of Judaism to perform acts of tzedakah-acts of charity and loving kindness. We have been commanded by G-d to care for the poor and the stranger. It our obligation to help those who are struggling, no matter what faith they practice. Tikkum olam-repair the world-is what we are instructed to do.
While 25% of the funds raised are earmarked for Jewish organizations, the rest is given to those who need it, because hunger is a human issue.
Some of the recent recipients of Mazon’s fundraising are:
- Migrant Farmworkers Project in Kansas City, Missouri
- St. Jude Food Bank in Tuba City, Arizona
- Sister Evelyn Mourey Center in El Centro, California
- Jackson County Food bank in McKee, Kentucky
The Changing Face of Hunger
It could be your friend or your neighbor
Did you know that about 50 million Americans are food insecure? Of that number,17 million of them are children, who are our future. How can they perform and learn in school when they cannot focus due to ache of an empty belly?
Hunger and food instability is not relegated to those who have always been poor. Senior citizens who have raised their families are now finding themselves unable to pay for medicine and food. Professional workers, who once garnered a large salary, have lost their jobs and have run out of their savings and retirement funds. Even our veteran military personnel, those who laid down their lives for us so we can be free, find themselves unemployed or underemployed upon leaving the service and have problems putting food on the table to feed their families.
This has to end.
Mazon is Also About AdvocacyCredit: By Bill Koplitz (This image is from the FEMA Photo Library.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Getting food to those who are in need is one of the primary missions of Mazon. But it is not the only one. Advocacy and education are part of the organization’s approach to finding viable long-term solutions to hunger and making sure that it is eradicated.
According the the Mazon website, 88% of the money raised goes directly into programming and grants.
Over the past few years, Mazon has initiated these programs:
Healthy Options, Healthy Meals
This program worked with 12 food bank partners to work against obesity in the low income areas that they serve. Each food bank must have a written nutritional policy so it’s clientele can have better food choices. In order to have better choices, these institutions must create and implement plans on how to get them.
It is common for people in these communities to be overweight. They are sometimes called “food deserts”.
Healthy foods are more expensive than junk food. For example, soda can cost 99 cents for a two liter bottle, while milk costs about $4 a gallon. A person can buy more high sugar soda for the money.
Rural and Remote
Not everyone who is food insecure lives in an urban setting. There are many Americans who are hungry, live in rural areas, and do not have the access to food banks like those in an urban setting.
This initiative will provide training and technical assistance, as well as financial support to the organizations in this area.
Help Our Heroes
Military families sacrifice so much for us. They move every two years, requiring spouses to find new jobs and get new certifications in their area of expertise. The children have to adjust to making new friends in yet another new school. Packing and moving is stressful each and every time they do it.
The biggest stress, however, is when our enlisted military personnel cannot feed their families, or when they leave he service, they cannot find jobs and they and their families go hungry.
Mazon is working with Congress so that those who serve and have served us so not have to wait as long as they do to receive the safety net benefits they so richly deserve.
Advocacy in Israel
According to the Spring 2013 Mazon publication, in 2011, nearly 1 in 5 Israelis are food insecure. There has been a slow but steady rise since the 1990’s. Although there are charities involved with helping the Israeli citizens, Mazon will be there to help the work that needs to be done.
This is Hunger in America
A Rap About Those in Need
How Can You Help?Credit: By Ken Hammond [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Mazon is helping people right in your community, your friend's community and in your family's community.
You can donate to Mazon any amount you wish...no amount is too big is too small. Just fill in the amount that you can.
You can donate to Mazon on their website with a credit card or via Paypal.
If you wish to call in a donation, the phone number is 800-813-0557. They are located in California, so they are on Pacific time.
We can all help eradicate hunger in our area, no matter what faith your practice.