Delivering the Tradition and Spirit of Passover in the Midst of COVID-19

Trinity Johnson was among dozens of volunteers who recently helped ensure that Passover meals were safely delivered to hundreds of families and individuals in the Greater Cincinnati area.
Trinity Johnson was among dozens of volunteers who recently helped ensure that Passover meals were safely delivered to hundreds of families and individuals in the Greater Cincinnati area.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been stressful and unsettling for many people, but it has been particularly challenging for those already suffering from food insecurity. Recently, dozens of determined Jewish Family Service (JFS) volunteers and staff spent time preparing for and participating in the in the 22nd annual Dr. Samuel S. Rockwern Passover Delivery Project of Jewish Family Service. Perhaps inspired by a desire to fulfill a mitzvah (commandment), the dedicated individuals helping with this effort were able to bring Passover meals to over 450 individuals and families in advance of the celebration. 


The Jewish Family Service Heldman Family Food Pantry, located at Jewish Family Service Barbash Family Vital Support Center, in Clifton, was home base for the project. Given the uncertainty that has come with the coronavirus, 2020’s version of Passover meal delivery was complex. To address the unique challenges of sourcing, packing, and delivering food during a viral pandemic, JFS took a number of precautions. A limited group of volunteers and staff members, each wearing face masks and gloves, packed all of the boxes. Outside the food pantry, volunteers donning masks and using hand sanitizer, collected the boxes and delivered them to the front door of each client. For every drop-off, a phone call was made to alert recipients that the Passover package had been delivered. This contactless process protected the most vulnerable members of the community—Holocaust survivors, home-bound older adults, and individuals with underlying medical conditions—and kept everyone safer.


Staff members from every JFS department pitched in to ensure that no families were overlooked. Passover is the most celebrated Jewish holiday; the result of this food assistance was that many more individuals and families were able to observe the traditions of Passover and embrace their Jewish faith and culture more fully. 


“The Dr. Samuel S. Rockwern Passover Delivery Project helps many families honor a holiday that is so meaningful to all of us,” said Dan Rapp, JFS President. “But we also know that many of these families struggle throughout the year to put food on the table.”


Larisa Rubanovsky, who first came to the United States from the former Soviet Union almost three decades ago, was just one of the grateful beneficiaries of this mitzvah. Now 78 and long retired, Rubanovsky was thrilled to see volunteers appear outside her door as they safely dropped off Passover meals for her and her husband. “Thank you very much for what you are doing,” she told the volunteers, seeming to enjoy a bit of safe social interaction.


Food Pantry Manager Jonathan Magrisso and Volunteer Programs Manager Beth Kotzin worked to orchestrate preparation, coordinate schedules, and ensure the health and safety of all involved. With the big Passover push behind them, Magrisso is happy to report that all the hard work paid off. Not only was the meal distribution a tremendous success, but clients seemed to show an elevated sense of appreciation when compared to prior years, perhaps due to 2020’s extraordinary circumstances.


“We had one client call in and tell us, ‘Thank you for bringing us the Passover box. We didn’t know if we’d get it this year. Thank you!’” Magrisso recalled. Elaine Cohen, who was one of this year’s volunteers, said she received “waves and smiles from everyone!” One client even went so far as to present Cohen with a goody bag.


The food pantry provides food for families in need throughout the year. It is open to the Greater Cincinnati Jewish community, as well as neighbors in the Clifton area, and serves more than 200 households every year. It is the only food pantry in the region to offer kosher and non-kosher foods, including meat.


A lead sponsorship gift from The Rockwern Charitable Foundation, together with donations from individual community members, helped JFS purchase fresh produce, frozen kosher Passover food, and additional kosher-for-Passover packaged items to make this year’s Passover meal complete. Additional donations to Jewish Family Service were made through table-top cannisters (for financial contributions) and drum barrels (for Passover food items) that were placed in local congregations, as well as in the Mayerson JCC. 


Jewish Family Service receives support in part from the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati, The Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati, and United Way of Greater Cincinnati.