Readers Choice 2013: Community

Charitable Organization/Jewish

Tzedakah and tikkun olam are woven into the fabric of Jewish life. These winning organizations are dedicated to the essential principles of charity and healing the world as they work tirelessly to improve the lives of others.

Bay Area Friendship Circle has filled an important niche in San Francisco and on the Peninsula for 10 years, creating Jewish community for youth with special needs and their families, along with teen volunteers. According to Debbie Chizever Taback, marketing director, “Focusing on the cultural rather than the religious aspects of Judaism, the Bay Area Friendship Circle engages families regardless of their religious background.” Youth with special needs gain a connection to Judaism in a safe, fun environment. Parents particularly appreciate the respite and supportive network.

Jewish Family and Children’s Services offers more than 40 programs to all ages, with a mission of strengthening individuals, families and communities. Based in San Francisco, with North Bay and Peninsula branches, it provides refugee resettlement services, emergency family assistance and mental health counseling, as well as senior services, family resources, youth programs and end-of-life services. JFCS assists 75,000 Bay Area residents annually. Through its Holocaust Center education programs, JFCS is working to ensure that the lessons of the Holocaust are never forgotten.

Jewish Family and Children’s Services of the East Bay serves 8,000 people each year in Alameda and Contra Costa counties in three principal areas: adult services (including counseling, older adult and Holocaust survivor services); parenting and youth services; and refugee and immigrant services. Though based on Jewish principles, services are available to anyone in need. Director of grants and communication Holly White says, “Through these program areas, JFCS/East Bay directly touches the lives of some of our most vulnerable community members.”

Mindy Berkowitz, executive director of Jewish Family Services of Silicon Valley, says, “Every day we restore hope for families, seniors and adults because we believe in tikkun olam, repairing our little corner of the world.” In the past year the agency fed more than 1,300 people in its kosher food assistance program, gave free income-tax assistance to 200 low-income families and distributed 1,300 holiday gifts to needy families, in addition to providing services to refugees and immigrants. “Everyone who walks through our doors is welcomed.”

San Francisco

Bay Area Friendship Circle

(415) 624-7192


Jewish Family and Children’s Services

(415) 449-1200


East Bay

Jewish Family and Children’s Services of the East Bay


(510) 704-7475


South Bay/Peninsula

Bay Area Friendship Circle

Palo Alto

(650) 858-6990 •


Jewish Family Services of Silicon Valley

Los Gatos

(408) 556-0600 •


North Bay

Jewish Family and Children’s Services

San Rafael / Santa Rosa

(415) 491-7960 / (707) 571-8131


Charitable Organization/Secular

Readers support these worthy organizations whose mission is to better the lives of all who need assistance.

The Alameda County Community Food Bank provides food for 49,000 residents each year through a network of 275 food pantries, soup kitchens and other community organizations, along with education and advocacy for clients. Communications manager Michael Altfest says the agency distributes “$4 worth of food for every $1 donated, and 95 cents of every dollar goes to food programs.” A major accomplishment has been the increase in the amount of fresh produce offered. The food bank is grateful for the support from the Bay Area’s Jewish community. Altfest says, “Community-led initiatives like the High Holy Days Food Drive and Holiday Dinner Drive play critical roles in our efforts.”

The Ecumenical Hunger Program supplies low-income individuals and families in East Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Palo Alto with emergency food, clothing and household essentials. But the organization offers far more than these basic necessities by advocating for community members and offering referrals to resources within the community. EHP continues to provide its services without government funding. The agency has been helping the community since 1975.

Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties distributes food to approximately 250,000 people through 740 sites each month. More than half of the food is fresh produce. Promoting healthier nutrition through education is an important part of the food bank’s mission. Caitlin Kerk, public relations manager, says while Second Harvest works “to ensure that everyone in our community has access to the nutritious food they need to thrive, we are particularly proud of our Brown Bag program,” which provides weekly groceries to seniors in need at nearly 80 sites.

Established as Hospice of Marin in 1975, the Larkspur-based agency became Hospice by the Bay as it expanded its end-of-life services to San Francisco, San Mateo and Sonoma counties. In addition to providing palliative care for the terminally ill patient, the hospice care team — spiritual support counselor, social worker, home health aide — supports family members as they come to terms with their loved one’s condition. Assistance for family members includes grief counseling, support groups, referrals to community resources, help with funeral planning and more.

Although the San Francisco and Marin Food Banks merged in 2011 to improve the quality of services, Marinites are partial to the name Marin Food Bank, but the name is not as important as the services the Novato location continues to provide: distributing fresh, healthy foods to Marin food pantries that are convenient to the communities they serve. “We are able to accomplish the good work that we do though the generosity of the community,” says executive director Paul Ash. “Nearly 60 percent of our funding comes from individual donors.”

East Bay

Alameda County Community Food Bank


(510) 635-3663 •


South Bay/Peninsula

Ecumenical Hunger Program

East Palo Alto

(650) 323-7781 •

Second Harvest Food Bank

San Jose

(408) 266-8866 •


North Bay

Hospice by the Bay


(415) 927-2273 •


San Francisco and Marin Food Banks


(415) 883-1302 •