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OU to lead data-driven policy changes inspired by kosher food insecurity study

(Courtesy of OU) While their friends and neighbors feverishly shop and cook for Passover, thousands of kashrut Jews across New York’s five boroughs who live with food insecurity can only dream of the luxury of a supermarket without worries, free from financial constraints.

Through a groundbreaking study on the experience of food insecurity commissioned by Gemiluth Chessed of Greater New York (GCGNY), organizations that support these individuals are gaining a better understanding of customers’ unique needs and preferences with the goal of making food experience of receiving food more effectively. more dignified and effective assistance.

GCGNY supports the health and well-being of older adults by funding a range of community, social, food and health organizations, including the Orthodox Union, Food Bank for New York City and City Harvest.

“We commissioned this research to better understand the needs of the population we and many others serve in the New York area,” said GCGNY President Rabbi Dr. Peter Kahn.

“Through our relief work, we realized that the OU had a critical role to play in combatting food insecurity,” said national director of the OU Department of Community Projects and Partnerships, Rabbi Simon Taylor.

According to Dr. Michelle Shain, research director of the Jewish Nonprofit Planning and Research Institute (JNPRI) and author of the study, the situation faced by the majority of those surveyed – where a universal pantry box often does not work for their families – reflects general academic findings on food insecurity.

“People’s diets are quite inelastic, very individual and idiosyncratic, meaning their eating habits stay pretty much the same regardless of what foods are readily available to them,” she noted.

She highlighted the following data acquired from the study: there was not a single type of chicken, meat or fish that was a staple protein for all respondents; and more than half of participants indicated that they are unwilling to eat unfamiliar foods to save money, suggesting that when resources are scarce, other priorities are harmed.

“One of the key takeaways from the study is that a one-size-fits-all model doesn’t really work for many people,” she said. “Sixty-one percent of participants said they would feel more comfortable going to a community pantry or kitchen if there were more foods that met their preferences or dietary needs .

“When asked what the Jewish community could do to better support it, a third asked for more grocery store gift cards,” Shain noted. “In addition to allowing them to make their own choices, using gift cards at retail stores feels more dignified than going to food banks or community kitchens, and alleviates people’s feelings of shame at the idea of ​​needing food assistance.

Another key point of the report is that time and mobility constraints prevent some people from accessing both low-cost retail food as well as food banks and community kitchens. While only half of those experiencing food insecurity choose their primary grocery store because of price, the rest choose stores based on accessibility, hours and convenience of location. About half also say they would be more comfortable visiting a community food pantry or kitchen if they had longer hours, shorter lines, or were located in more practical and discreet places.

The OU Department of Community Projects and Partnerships is currently working to test different data-driven solutions.

“As the cost of living in kosher households continues to skyrocket, ensuring people have food is absolutely critical and the OU is committed to making a difference,” Taylor said.

A partnership initiated by OU with GCGNY, Empire Chicken and City Harvest, launched in December 2023, enabled the continued distribution of 26,000 pounds of kosher chicken at a subsidized cost to New Yorkers who struggle to afford meat kosher.

“Addressing food insecurity is crucial, especially among older adults and those following specific diets,” Kahn said. “We are proud to be part of a coalition that not only provides food, but also understands and meets basic needs. »