Local donors feed Jews in the former USSR

Reva Fatalevich worries about her sister and niece in Ukraine, both of whom are elderly, sick and so poor they can hardly afford to eat.

But it eases the San Franciscan's mind to know that, thanks to her, fresh food will arrive every month on her relatives' doorstep.

She makes these "deliveries" through the S.F.-based Bay Area Council of Jewish Rescue and Renewal, which every month helps transform individual $55 donations into food parcels for Jews in the former Soviet Union.

The packages, Fatalevich said, are her relatives' "only hope."

Currently, packages reach residents of 13 cities including Moscow, St. Petersburg, Minsk and Odessa. Soon, parcels will also reach residents of Lvov and Kersch, both in Ukraine.

The bundles generally contain meat, fish, eggs, cheese, vegetable oil, sugar and cereal, though contents vary from city to city.

"What we are trying to do with the food parcels is provide ongoing sustenance," said BACJRR executive director Simon Klarfeld. "Food in the box should be enough for one month."

The BACJRR coordinates the food-parcel effort for 15 North American organizations that aid Jews in the former Soviet Union. Since amounts donated by those councils vary from month to month, it is hard to pinpoint the average number of packages each council sponsors. But according to project coordinator Natasha Kats, the local council sends an average of 60 parcels a month.

Here's how it works. The BACJRR sends donations to its food coordinators throughout the former Soviet Union. With the donated funds, coordinators purchase fresh food and distribute it to needy people whose names have been provided by Jewish welfare organizations.

Some stateside donors make random $55 donations, never knowing who among the long list of elderly, bedridden and indigent Jews will benefit from their charity. Other donors, like Fatalevich, specify whom their money is meant to feed.

"We have clients who do it every single month for their relatives and therefore literally are their lifeline," Klarfeld said.

Regular recipients often tell their local food coordinators how the money can best be used. "If they tell our food coordinator, `I don't need all this sugar; can you give me more cereal?' then our food coordinator will normally do that," Klarfeld said.

One Moscow parcel recipient, Sophia Malishina, wrote to the BACJRR, "Your food is like manna from heaven."

The BACJRR has led other efforts to feed Jews in the former Soviet Union.

Earlier this spring, for example, the organization coordinated a local food drive for needy Jews in Ukraine. More than 35 Bay Area synagogues and Jewish institutions as well as several local food manufacturers donated more than 5,000 cubic feet of edibles over a one-month period.

But unlike the monthly food-parcel effort, that drive was only a one-time effort. "The food drive was wonderful," Klarfeld said. "But it was a Band-Aid solution."