At Maot Chitim, we experienced how life can change in a moment’s notice, what coming together as a community looks like, and what it’s like to survive, not only one pandemic, but two.
January 2020 came with the promise of a good year. After all, thanks to over 1500 adults and children who played key roles, 2019 Holiday Distributions came and went without a hinge.
February brought early talk of a new flu-like illness potentially spreading across the world, just as Passover 2020 planning was in full swing. Food was ordered, letters were received and answered, volunteers were signing up by the dozens.
Early March felt like a race against time. A pandemic was setting in, with talks of a possible shut down headlining the news daily. Our thoughts remained focused on setting up, packing boxes, and we remained optimistic that there would be a Passover 2020 food delivery.
In Mid-March, with the help of a group of Vanderbilt students, our new warehouse and assembly line was set up. Boxes were being built… and then…things came to a screeching halt, as the state went on a complete shutdown. Emergency meetings were held to figure out how to switch gears without wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars of food and still supplying food to the thousands of people in need. We needed to do all of this fast and without the help of our usual 1500+ volunteers. It took a small, but mighty village and the fielding of hundreds of phone calls, but we managed to contact everyone in our recipient database to inform them that due to the COVID-19 restrictions and the CDC guidelines. they would be receiving Jewel gift cards in lieu of food.
All were understanding, most had means to help them get to the store or help with shopping, others were worried they wouldn’t be able to shop. Some, who look forward to our kosher food boxes, felt very isolated as they did not live close to a store with a good supply of kosher food. With long hours and determination, we put a gift card in the hands of thousands of Jewish neighbors in need and gathered volunteers to safely grocery shop if needed. We did not know then, that this would be a trial run as to what was to come next.
Jewish organizations around Chicago saw a rapidly increasing need as more and more people were out of work. We were able to donate food to The Ark, The Chesed Fund and Local food pantries. Thanks to the Jewish United Fund, and local donors such as yourself, we were able to feed everyone.
Shut down continued through the summer months. Our senior population remained isolated and stuck at home. In partnership with Holocaust Community Services, we were able to reach out and hold a virtual party. We sent out Israeli flags and pins which joined the American Flag with the Israeli Flag. We hosted an online gathering featuring the Israeli Scouts. At the end, everyone sang Hatikvah and waved their flags. It was a moment of unity. We may not have been together physically, but as Jews we stood together as one. One thing was certain, Rosh Hashanah 2020 was coming, and the pandemic was staying.
Passover 2020 paved the way for our gift card distribution for Rosh Hashanah. Due to the unfortunate circumstances, our recipient list continued to increase. We are happy to report that we were able to increase the dollar amount, per person, from Passover. Beautiful homemade gift cards, along with the Jewel cards, let our recipients know that their community wished them a sweet year of health and happiness.
September brought hope to thousands of Holocaust survivors in our community, thanks to our collaboration with Holocaust Community Services. On a sunny Sunday afternoon, with a limited number of volunteers, we distributed gift bags of challah and honey to Holocaust survivors throughout the Chicago area. The gift bags were cherished and brought meaning of being remembered to this well deserving group of individuals. Tears of happiness flowed throughout Chicagoland that day and calls of thanks flooded our office. Not only from recipients, but from volunteers as well.
We headed into fall with October and November. Chanukah arrived in early December. Our Plan to have a contact free delivery of menorahs, cookies, candles and gelt to our seniors living in subsidized buildings had to be canceled. As COVID numbers surged to their highest numbers to date, the buildings were closed to visitors, and once again, we were restricted. On a positive note, we hosted a beautiful Chanukah celebration, complete with singing and dancing, online with Holocaust Community Services, where we were able to send our wishes and prayers for hope.
2020 has come to a close. It’s been a crazy, bittersweet year, but a year of realization. We are grateful to all of you, our Maot Chitim family. Your donations fed over 16,000 individuals this past year. The beautiful homemade cards brought joy. Prayers of love and healing brought hope. We have so much to be thankful for and so much to look forward to. Thank you for bringing our Maot Chitim community so much Light amidst the darkness of 2020.
We wish you a healthier, happier and more prosperous and hopeful 2021.
Joellyn, Wendy and the rest of our Maot Chitim Family