person handing over meal to a woman wearing mask at YM&YWHA

Grassroots Effort to Feed Holocaust Survivors

Turns Into an Outpouring of Generosity to Care for Frail Elderly and People in Need in Northern Manhattan

On Friday, March 27, 2020, the YM&YWHA of Washington Heights & Inwood (the Y) served what it thought were its last grab-and-go and delivered meals to neighborhood seniors, as New York City’s Department for the Aging was taking over all citywide senior meal provisions to help prevent the further spread of COVID-19. Within days, however, the Y realized some seniors didn’t receive the promised food packages; some of them couldn’t access the canned food, as they didn’t have the strength or tools to open it; and many of them would not be sustained by what was delivered.

“The Y’s staff is making outreach calls every day to seniors in our Center for Adults Living Well and Safe-at-Home programs,” said Victoria Neznansky, chief social services and development officer at the Y. “Some of our seniors have home attendants, and some do not. Many of the ones who do are also without help, because their home aides are unwell. It’s difficult, if not impossible, for them to get the food they need to survive, let alone hot, nourishing meals.”

“The situation was heartbreaking,” said Martin G. Englisher, chief executive officer at the Y. “Our team was speaking with Holocaust survivors who were going hungry. We learned that the food some of them were receiving was very basic emergency supplies, like single-serve peanut butter packets. Other items were difficult for them to open.”

In addition to the generous support we already received from Temple Emanu-El to provide meals to seniors in need before the pandemic, we were fortunate when an anonymous donor allocated a generous contribution to help the Y during the crisis, inviting a matching gift from other supporters to double his impact. In addition, when members of the Wein Family heard about Holocaust survivors in need of meals, they sprang into action and reached out to their friends. Together, they decided to each adopt an isolated older adult and sponsor their freshly made and delivered kosher meals. Listen to one of the recipients, a 97-year old German Holocaust survivor, as she expresses her sincere gratitude.

“What happened next, is nothing short of awe-inspiring,” said Neznansky. “Word spread about how the Wein Family and friends were providing meals for Holocaust survivors. Their son and his friends got involved, not only making generous contributions of their own, but also inspiring their places of work to match the donations. But, it didn’t stop there. Max Doppelt and Andrew Och established Social Differencing — a website dedicated to connecting philanthropists to the most impactful charities responding to the effects of the pandemic, facilitating donations and matching gift opportunities. The Y is honored to be among the highlighted organizations.

“We then received a substantial grant from the Klipper Foundation and then additional bighearted contributions from Board members, donors, foundations, partners, Y program members, and members of the community.”

With the available resources and an understanding of the dire needs, the Y made arrangements with a local restaurant to prepare and deliver the meals. As of this week, the Y is feeding 85 hot, nutritious meals to seniors every day. “We’re grateful to be able to source the meals locally and also help the restaurant stay in business,” said Englisher. “Many local small businesses are struggling, and this is just one other way we can support the community.”

“We don’t know how much longer this situation will continue and until when our seniors will be stuck at home,” said Neznansky. “What we do know is that the Y will be here for them and will make sure their needs are met.

Since the start of the pandemic, our community partners also have dedicated themselves to care for the most vulnerable among us. Before Passover, UJA-Federation of New York worked with dozens of its agencies and community centers — including the Y — to identify families and individuals who are isolated, financially vulnerable, or previously have relied on free or subsidized communal Seders. Together, its network of agencies provided more than 8,500 free Passover Seder meals and more than 4,000 Seder kits to people in need, including 107 seniors in Washington Heights. We are grateful to have also received subsequent funding from UJA to provide additional emergency assistance.

“The Y has set up an online form for all members of the community to request emergency assistance, including food and meals, medical treatment, mental health counseling, rent and financial assistance, and more. We encourage anyone who is struggling to reach out, so we can help. We also are asking our members to share this information with their neighbors, families, and friends, so no one will suffer, and we can help one another get through these difficult times.”

“This situation is like nothing any of us has experienced,” said Englisher. “The Y’s leadership has been blown away by the generosity and compassion of those stepping up to the plate to feed our seniors. We have been fortunate to help those in need in our community for decades, and we will continue to do so. We will get through this and come together stronger than before.”

About the Y
Established in 1917, the YM&YWHA of Washington Heights & Inwood (the Y) is Northern Manhattan’s premier Jewish community center — serving an ethnically and socio-economically diverse constituency — improving the quality of life for people of all ages through critical social services and innovative programs in health, wellness, education, and social justice, while promoting diversity and inclusion, and caring for those in need.

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