Faces of Heldman Family Food Pantry

Personal stories of how Jewish Family Service strengthens lives in times of need

The food pantry has been transformed into the comprehensive Barbash Family Vital Support Center to best promote wellness for families in need. Learn more

Leslye gives back to give a hand up...

The past fourteen years have not been easy for Leslye. She arrived in Cincinnati in 1998 with her husband and two sons, excited by the prospect of a fresh start in her family’s new home in Symmes Township. But she was greeted with bad news: her husband, who suffered from bi-polar disorder, quickly lost the new job that brought them to Cincinnati.


With a diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis that forced Leslye to stop working, along with her husband’s unsteady employment, their home eventually fell into foreclosure. Then, in 2003, her husband left.


“The world crashed down,” she remembers, “I was carrying on and being professional on the outside, and caving in on the inside.” She’d gone from a successful career in sales, management,

and education advocacy to surviving on a meager income from Social Security and food stamps. And as her physical capabilities declined, life grew harder.


She turned to Jewish Family Service for help. After they were forced to leave their home, Jewish Family Service social workers helped Leslye secure a wheelchair-accessible apartment. When she moved again, they helped pay for her moving expenses. All the while, she received monthly deliveries from food pantry volunteers, a relationship that continues to this day. But perhaps the greatest help to Leslye has been Jewish Family Service’s Barbash Family Vital Support Center, which opened in the fall of 2013.


As a long-time client of the Heldman Family Food Pantry, now located at the Vital Support Center, Jewish Family Service staff believed Leslye would benefit from the social and wellness activities also offered at the center. She became involved in Jewish celebrations, Tai Chi, Drumming, and Mindfulness practice. “It’s made me feel normal again, when I wasn’t ready not to be,” she says.


But for Leslye, it isn’t just about what Jewish Family Service can do for her; she also wants to give back to the organization that helped her when she needed it most. When she received her small divorce settlement, she used a portion of the funds to repay some of the moving expenses covered by Jewish Family Service.

Currently, Leslye co-facilitates meal preparation with staff and clients at the Vital Support Center, and helps with meal planning using the items available at the food pantry. She developed these skills by cooking for her own family on a tight budget and limited food supplies. She enjoys sharing recipes with other clients and helping them develop self-reliance by learning new skills.


But just as importantly, she brings her smile, her conversation, and her willingness to listen to others. “Everyone needs to be hugged. Everyone needs someone to say, ‘Hi, how are you?’,” she says, “Going there gave me purpose. I was able to feel like my old self because I had a purpose.”


Leslye impresses others, both with her talents in the kitchen and her desire to share these skills to teach and help others. “She has an amazing strength and a perseverance that’s powerful. It’s not only something clients can emulate, but staff as well,” says Fran Gafvert, the Jewish Family Service Director of Vital Support Services.


Barbash Family Vital Support Center doesn’t simply care for the physical needs of its clients—rather, the center promotes wellness, socialization, and returns to clients a sense of balance and normalcy. “It’s a matter of how you look at your life,” Leslye says, “I’m grateful every day.”


Jewish Family Service too is grateful for the opportunity to assist clients like Leslye on their road to

stability. If you or someone you know is struggling with  life challenges, you can call Barbash Family Vital Support Center of Jewish Family Service at 513-766-3370. Social workers are available to help determine the best way to manage through difficult times.


The Vital Support Center is funded in part by The Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati, Jewish Federation of Cincinnati, and United Way of Greater Cincinnati.

Marji and Ellen's thank you for the Vital Support Center

Rueven's Story...


by Reuven

After having been employed for several years, I found myself envisioning a modest but stable financial future. I was employed and I was meeting all of my financial responsibilities when suddenly and without warning, my circumstances had taken a turn for the worse.


Jewish Family Service has been my life anchor during unreliable times and a spiritual guiding light when situations seemed like they were at their bleakest. Today while randomly accepting part time employment opportunities, I am a sculptor and painter with gallery contracts in both the U.S. and Europe.


The social workers and care managers at Jewish Family Service have never laid upon any judgments, but instead have devoted their efforts solely towards my health and well being.


Margi's Story...

After a 25-year-long career as a psychiatric nurse, Margi finally gave in to the problem that had been haunting her: the fact that she herself suffered from severe depression and agoraphobia. She quit work and just stayed home for “six or seven years,” during which time her physical health declined seriously.


Margi looks back on those years and says, “If it was a pretty day, I wanted the shades drawn. I wanted no reminder that there is a good life and I was so far away from that. I couldn’t listen to music for years.”


Finally in 2004, Margi reached out for help and contacted Jewish Family Service (JFS). Danielle Sabarese, a mental health case manager, was sent out to meet with her.


Today, Margi is doing well. She has overcome her agoraphobia and manages her depression with medication and the support of people around her, especially the help she has received from JFS. “Danielle is very important to my stabilization,” Margi says.


Danielle set about linking Margi with other JFS services. With her very limited disability income, Margi has needed emergency financial assistance from JFS’s Chaver fund to pay her utility bills. She counts on food from the Jewish Family Service Food Pantry every month. Danielle has also located some donated clothing for Margi.


Thanks to Danielle’s encouragement, Margi is taking advantage of a scholarship to join Mayerson JCC.


Danielle even gave some thought to Margi’s spiritual needs, and several years ago, recruited a rabbinical student to spend some time with Margi. Margi credits that relationship with helping her reconnect to the Jewish community in a meaningful way.


Now that she’s doing better, Margi has made it her mission to educate people about mental illness. She has spoken to social work students at Northern Kentucky University, to rabbinical students at Hebrew Union College, and at the annual meeting of Planned Lifetime Assistance Network of Southwest Ohio.


“Judaism is about nothing if not tzedakah,” Margi believes. Her message today: “Open your heart. Open your wallet. Volunteer. Help Jewish Family Service. JFS is so important to so many people in our community.”


Judy's Story

When a truck ran over Judy in 1996, it filled her body with years of endless pain. Judy lost her ability to work. But she never lost her smile or fighting spirit.


"I have a wonderful family. And I am so lucky to even be able to have children after the accident. I love them so much; nothing can compare to being a mother," said Judy.


As a typical loving mother, Judy wants her children to eat healthy foods, even on a tight budget.


"My husband works full-time. But his pay is $10.50 an hour. It is 50 cents too much to qualify for food stamps. And much of his salary pays for health care," she said. Her aunt suggested she call Jewish Family Service.


Jewish Family Service Food Pantry offers kosher food and personal care items to people in the Greater Jewish community who are experiencing financial difficulties.


"Jewish Family Service Food Pantry has been heaven sent," she said.


"I can make a few meals out of this," she says pointing to her basket of fresh carrots, cabbage and potatoes along with packages of ground beef and a turkey breast.


Jewish Family Service Food Pantry provides more than food and case management services. With the help of volunteers, it also fulfills dreams.


"One year we had an anonymous benefactor - who we called our 'mystery munshkin' - deliver five huge bags filled with toys and clothing for Hanukkah. We were so tickled. Without that, my children would not have had any gifts."


"Oh, that shiny black coat was so perfect. It was awesome. I wore it every day," exclaimed her daughter Amber who is now 12.

The Paper Plate Project...


Jewish Family Service is proud to participate in The Paper Plate Project. Read personal messages written on paper plates about the ways the economy has affected lives...and what Jewish Family Service Food Pantry means to them.