Kosher Meals on Wheels Rolls Along Despite Virus

By Mary Klaus

COVID-19 has changed everything in the Harrisburg Jewish community from Seders to Shabbat services, from b’nai mitzvot to minyans, and how community members get their food.

Yet, the Finkelstein-Cohen Kosher Meals on Wheels program, which provides fresh and nutritious meals to Jews in need in Dauphin County, has kept rolling along.

“Since the virus began, we have 25 percent more new clients,” said

John Jantos, Jewish Family Service of Greater Harrisburg coordinator of the Kosher Meals on Wheels program.  “We now serve people from age 60 up.”

He said that the program provides up to six meals a week to the participants who don’t have the ability to independently buy groceries and prepare nutritious meals.

Jantos said that the meals, made in the Campus of the Jewish Home kitchen, include an entree such as meat, fish, or pasta, vegetables, a starch, choice of soup or salad, a dessert, fresh fruit, bread, and 2% milk.

“The Jewish Home kitchen prepares the meals and puts them in a refrigerator in the Kosher Meals on Wheels packing room,” he said. “We have six volunteer packers who go to that room the same day and pack them. We have eight volunteer drivers who pick up the meals and deliver them the following day.”

Jantos said that his volunteers have their temperatures checked on arrival at the Jewish Home, then head to the kitchen for the meals. “A special thanks and appreciation to the Kosher Meals on Wheels volunteers who have endured the current situation and continued their service to those in need,” he added.

The Kosher Meals on Wheels program, which has been around for about 40 years, nourishes spirits as well as bodies, Jantos said.

“While food is the top priority, another advantage of this program is that the recipients have another set of eyes and ears looking out for their welfare,” he said. “Our drivers have the same routes and deliver to the same people. They get to know them. The recipients say this adds comfort and keeps them in touch with the community.”

Jantos said that since the virus began, “the community has come forward offering assistance.” The program needed that boost, he said, after two drivers and two packers quit because they weren’t comfortable volunteering for the program during the quarantine.

“Folks like Rabbi Ron Muroff (Chisuk Emuna Congregation) and Jenn Ross (Jewish Federation of Greater Harrisburg President/CEO) put out the word that we could use some help and people stepped forward,” he said. “I received additional volunteers. We can always use more folks in the bullpen.”

Jantos said that the program is undertaking “a new and separate endeavor” on June 2. He said that thanks to the combined efforts of Ross, Muroff, some new volunteers and the Dauphin County's Area Agency on Aging, meals will be delivered to some past participants of the congregate meals program for the Jewish Community Center Senior Adult Club, which is now meeting online rather than at the JCC due to the virus.

“We will continue to adapt as the months move along,” he said.

Anyone wishing to make a donation to the program can write a check to Jewish Family Service and put Kosher Meals on Wheels on the memo line. Checks should be mailed to Jewish Family Service of Greater Harrisburg, 3333 N. Front St., Harrisburg, Pa. 17110. Anyone interested in volunteering should contact John Jantos at 717-233-1681.