The Pantry Packers experience
The Pantry Packers experienceShlomo Chaim Rivkin

Following its success in Jerusalem at fusing charity with a fun experience for both locals and tourists, Pantry Packers has recently launched a pilot program in the United States.

The food distribution arm of Colel Chabad, Pantry Packers provides a platform for thousands of volunteers to prepare food staples and packages that are distributed to needy families around Israel.

Through a highly professional and organized approach in a state-of-the-art packing warehouse in Jerusalem dedicated by the Luxenberg and Zuckerman families of Great Neck, the program has become a sought-after stop for many families and groups looking for a meaningful addition to trips to Israel.

As the past two years of pandemic have severely limited travel abroad, the decision was made to bring the Pantry Packers experience to the US.

New York’s North Shore Hebrew Academy (NSHA) was the first to take part in the new program, where over the course of a recent school day students packed over one ton of rice which was then distributed to needy families in the New York area.

Rabbi Menachem Traxler, who founded and continues to run Pantry Packers in Jerusalem, was on hand for the pilot event.

“The continuing pandemic has been extremely trying for our efforts because the needs have only expanded while our core of volunteers from the Diaspora Jewish community has almost dried up. But as this crisis continued, we began hearing from friends and contacts in America who missed the volunteering opportunity that allows children to feel a real sense of fulfillment and know that their hard work is immediately helping others,” he explained.

Jamie Lassner, Director of Student Programming at NSHA, described the day as both exciting and deeply meaningful.

“Several members of our community have visited and have participated in Pantry Packers chessed (lovingkindness) programs in Israel, and the NSHA Middle School Family is humbled to be the pilot program outside Israel,” Lassner said. “God willing, through the success of this program, many others will be launched at schools all over the world, so it’s particularly meaningful to see how our efforts here at NSHA can be the paradigm for multi-dimensional chessed programs in Israel and abroad.”

The on-site packing activity is accompanied by a campaign to raise funds to continue feeding Israel’s needy families, supported by Colel Chabad. Colel Chabad is Israel’s longest-running social services organization, and has been operating since 1788. To date, over $8,000 was raised by NSHA students and families in their local campaign.

The boxes of packed rice were delivered to Tomchei Shabbos of Queens, where it was included in the food boxes distributed to 325 families each week.

“The hands-on lesson is one of doing chessed in its purest form,” said Yitzchak Katz of Tomchei Shabbos, which is staffed completely by volunteers. “Whether one contributes time, effort, or money, every volunteer and contributor plays an important part in this mitzva (Torah commandment - ed.). Your help is part of a great picture of how wonderful Klal Yisroel (the People of Israel) is.”

Rabbi Shalom Duchman, Director of Colel Chabad said, “It is undeniable that the continuing corona crisis has created a sense of disconnect between communities in the US and those in Israel, and we realized that this is a way to re-establish some of that connection. While we all look forward to the day very soon where we can welcome visitors and volunteers back to Jerusalem, we now have a meaningful format that can allow them to enjoy the Pantry Packers experience while supporting those in need locally and in Israel.”