In The Midst of a Pandemic, Community Finds Ways to Help Out

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Turning Lemons Into Lemonade

Keith Shapiro, Jake Shapiro, and Adiva Berkowitz
From left: Keith Shapiro, Jake Shapiro, and Adiva Berkowitz help with food donation efforts. (David Stuck)

By Carolyn Conte

When a public chametz burning was canceled, Keith Shapiro and Brett Weil, JCC of Greater Baltimore board members, found a way to turn the situation into a positive experience.

They’re not the only ones. Throughout the Baltimore Jewish community, people are creating unique ways to help out during the pandemic.

Shapiro, in addition to being a JCC board member, is board president of Community Assistance Network, or CAN, which runs a food pantry and hosts homeless shelters throughout the county. His friend, Weil, reached out to Shapiro with the idea of transforming the chametz burning event into a food collection to help those in need.

With the high unemployment rate and stores already facing shortages from those stocking up, food is particularly difficult to access. CAN has seen a painful increase in the number of people in need. Shapiro said that 40% to 60% of the people they see in a day now are new. Moreover, Shapiro said, store donations are down. Weil wondered if they could take the event and flip it to help those in need.

The two called connections at Accents Grill, Market Maven, and Pikesville Jewish Congregation to set up collection boxes at those places, where people can drop off products.

“We Facebooked it, advertised it,” Shapiro said. “There was such a great need.”

Within 14 days, they gathered more than 650 pounds of food, weighed by the scale usually used for grocery store meat measurements.

“Six hundred fifty pounds is hard to explain, but it’s a big haul,” Shapiro said. “It’s really cool because … you have a Conservative [Shapiro] and an Orthodox [Weil] arranging to collect food for all of Baltimore County. It’s really helping a ton. Isn’t that great?”

The same locations are still accepting donations of canned food, cereal, or pasta.

“The more you’re able to give, the more [those in need] can spend on rent or medications,” Shapiro said. “You’re really giving them a helping hand.”

New Ventures

Pearlstone, the retreat center in Reisterstown, also began a brand new venture: food delivery. It started offering web orders April 16, with its first meals delivered April 20.

A few members of its retreat services and housekeeping departments, who are not currently able to help guests in house and who are eager to work, offered to assist with the contact-less deliveries.

Pearlstone chefs and cooks make the meals daily in the Pearlstone kitchen.

“After a few weeks of contemplating how we could best live our values and help the community, while attempting to recoup some of our lost revenue, we decided to offer our popular kosher farm-to-fork food that we usually serve to our in-house groups as a family-style dinner delivery service,” said Rachael Walkins, Pearlstone’s director of food service.

“We specialize in healthy farm-to-fork kosher cuisine that incorporates some of our beautiful organic produce grown right here on the Pearlstone farm.”

Pearlstone offers kosher meat and kosher dairy meals, vegetarian and gluten-free options, and an expanded Shabbat dinner option. There will also be three types of homemade soups as an add-on to any order.

Delivery within a certain zone is included in the price of the meal. Customers can also purchase meals for others when ordering on the website.

“We hope that this food will both help nourish and sustain our community while we all work together to get through this pandemic,” Walkins said.

The menu and ordering page can be found at pearlstone-center.org/pearlstone-kitchen.

Acme Paper & Supply Co., Inc., owned by the local Jewish Attman family, is also changing its game. The company is supplying masks, cleaning equipment, and products to hospitals, nursing homes, and more. The company is also supplying more paper products to restaurants, which have to do more deliveries at this time.

“We distribute to most of the hospitals in our region, as well as all kinds of long-term care facilities,” Ron Attman, co-CEO of ACME Paper & Supply, told Fox Baltimore.

Helping Hands

Rabbi Shelly Barnathan, who grew up in Baltimore but no longer lives in the area, was not able to visit her 93-year-old mother for Passover because of quarantine this year.

“My mom, Irma Pretsfelder, would be alone for the first time in her life for seder,”
Barnathan said.

Instead, the community on Chelwood Road where her mother lives, organized by Ari Taragin, stepped in. Neighbors came out each night of the seder onto their doorsteps to sing “Mah Nishtanah” to her mother.

“Then on Friday night, they all came out and sang ‘Eshet Chayil,’ and on Saturday night, they all came out to do Havdalah for and with her,” she said. “This was a mitzvah of the highest order.”

Sam Suchin of Pikesville, 17, is using his 3D printer and design skills to provide the community with face shields. Suchin created Hope3D, a crowdsourcing website, a few years ago to address community needs. After realizing the severity of the health crisis, he began a project using Hope3D to produce protective face shields for health care workers. The shields use a plastic material which, when worn over surgical masks, provides CDC-recommended protection.

Originally, a health care center in Puerto Rico had reached out to Suchin about their need. After speaking with an acquaintance at Johns Hopkins University, Suchin found himself assembling 300 masks for Sinai Hospital, Mercy Medical Center, The Johns Hopkins Hospital, University of Maryland School of Medicine, local doctors, and more.
Recently, Suchin extended his 3D printing skills to create adapters for ventilators. Suchin has made 20 so far.

All of his designs for the face shields are on his website, Hope3D.org, and are free to use. Clients can either send the parts to him or download instructions to assemble it themselves.

Suchin is focused on altruism rather than profit. He sees this time as a great opportunity to turn lemons into lemonade.

“It is important to use this time to self-reflect and develop new hobbies and spend time with family,” Suchin said. “We’ve all been working nonstop, but now we have this once-in-a-lifetime chance to self-reflect.”

How You Can Help Your Community

By Jesse Berman

COVID-19 has impacted our community hard, and left many without the resources they need to support themselves. Those of us who are still on our feet are being encouraged to help lift up others in this time of need. It should be noted that Baltimore City is actively discouraging those at higher risk for COVID-19, such as older adults and those with chronic health conditions, from volunteering in person. However, with the option to volunteer remotely that some programs are offering, it is possible for nearly anyone to get involved.

  1. United Way: United Way is currently accepting volunteers with specific skills to assist in their COVID-19 relief efforts. This includes individuals with more specific skills such as psychologists, social workers, web developers, and financial managers, as well as those with more commonly available skills, such as driving and cooking. They are also looking for volunteers with foreign language skills, people with bulk quantities of supplies (such as cleaning and medical supplies, and perishable and nonperishable food), and people with places to store such supplies. Finally, United Way also has opportunities to volunteer remotely through virtual platforms. To apply, go to unitedtoact.org/unitedwaycentralmd/support-the-united-way-covid-19-community-fund.
  2. Volunteering Untapped: Volunteering Untapped is looking for volunteers to help with preparing meals, delivering food and supplies, and providing information or support over the phone. Those fluent in Spanish are also encouraged to apply. Those with means are encouraged to make financial donations to the Baltimore COVID-19 Food Security Fund. To apply, go to volunteeringuntapped.org/covid.
  3. American Red Cross: The American Red Cross is asking those who are able to make blood donations during the COVID-19 crisis. Individuals who have fully recovered from COVID-19 infections are especially encouraged to participate. More information can be found at redcrossblood.org.
  4. Baltimore City Public Schools: With schools closed, Baltimore City Public School has established “18 meal and academic resource distribution sites at school locations,” and they are seeking volunteers to support these sites. Those with foreign language skills are particularly sought after. Volunteers can sign up at bcpss.ezcommunicator.net/edu/bcpss/Take_Survey.aspx?App=0&id=27&u=0.
  5. Jewish Volunteer Connection: Jewish Volunteer Connection is the volunteer arm of The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore. During the pandemic, JVC is offering different opportunities to volunteer virtually or outside the home, in addition to offering a list of places that need donations. Find out more at jvcbaltimore.org/covid19/.

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