The Jewish High Holy Days are upon us. Across the Philadelphia region, Jewish communities are preparing for the start of the New Year, ready to engage in the process of moral self-assessment, seeking forgiveness from others for harm we've done, making amends as appropriate, and resolving to do better in the future.
As president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, each year I take this sacred season to consider the role my organization plays in the day-to-day lives of Jews in our region, and the season itself provides the answers. On Rosh Hashanah, we dip apples in honey to celebrate the New Year. On Yom Kippur, many of us break the fast with the traditional spread of bagels and lox. Food is inextricably linked to life.
As our area's central hub of Jewish life, the Jewish Federation takes seriously its responsibility to confront the challenges our communities face. Over 11,000 Jews in our region are food insecure. About one in seven Jewish households has an annual income below $25,000, and 28 percent of Jewish households report they either cannot pay for basic expenses or are just managing to meet needs. That's where organizations such as ours must step in, not only to provide access to food and nutritional services, but also to help combat the stereotype that comes with it.
Each year, our Mitzvah Food Program and its five pantries directly serve 8,000 Jewish and non-Jewish individuals, and that number continues to rise. But food distribution is only the first step on the path to resolving the issues surrounding this basic human need. It's hard to reconcile that food insecurity remains a problem in the 21st century, but we can all agree that it deserves a 21st century solution.
This summer, our organization utilized the online grocery delivery model for our Mitzvah food banks, allowing our clients to use their personal phones and computers to select their groceries, either for delivery or pickup. By empowering our communities with the ability to order their own food, and have it delivered straight to their kitchen pantries, we give individuals and families the power of personal choice.
So throughout these days when we gather together to repent and to strive to do better, let us also gather food. Our High Holiday Food Drive, which takes place in synagogues across greater Philadelphia, collects over 50,000 pounds of nutritious food on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. That food is later sorted by Jewish Federation volunteers and distributed to our food pantries, supplementing client orders for over four months. By purchasing and donating a variety of foods, from traditional canned vegetables to almond milk and gluten-free products, we provide nourishment for both the body and the soul.
Every time I speak with our food pantry clients, I hear stories that could easily be my own. Many of our clients struggle with the physical and emotional tolls of the shift from a middle-class lifestyle to needing assistance and vital services. And, really, how many of us are only one major medical bill or economic downturn away from a similar situation? As we look ahead to the Hebrew year of 5779, let us strive to ensure that all members of our communities are given the power of food choice and security.