Northeast: Klein JCC Food Programs Take Steps Toward Self-Sufficiency]

As the Klein Jewish Community Center works to feed needy and hungry seniors, it has bolstered its efforts to become more self-sufficient.

Efforts by people like Hunger Relief Volunteer Coordinator John Eskate, who has overseen gardening and greenhouse efforts at center, and Lisa Sandler, the director of community services, have helped Klein JCC grow its own vegetables.

“What we’re trying to do here is make everything a bit easier,” Eskate said. “We’ve planted potatoes, onions and spinach. We’re only planting things that we can cook with. The goal is to lower Klein’s need to go out and find produce to cook with.”

John Eskate tends to the vegetables planted outside the Klein JCC greenhouse
John Eskate tends to the vegetables planted outside the Klein JCC greenhouse

Eskate also spoke of the importance of the process of planting and tending to the plants, saying that not only will the food help those in need, it will also help the people planting the vegetables.

Klein JCC has a program called Grow For a Friend, which Eskate manages. One of its main goals to pair gardens with people who know how to grow crops in order to grow vegetables for those who need them.

“One of the biggest things that helped us was a couple of Bhutanese farmers,” Eskate explained. “They were bonifide farmers in Bhutan, which has really helped us. They came in and took over the preparation of the greenhouse, dug rows and planted seeds. They’ve definitely helped me out.”

The vegetables are still a few months away from being ready, but Eskate believes he should have fresh onions and potatoes by June or July.

Rows of potatoes, carrots and other veggies inside the Klein JCC greenhouse
Rows of potatoes, carrots and other veggies inside the Klein JCC greenhouse

These vegetables will go straight from the garden into the food that is prepared for the Meals On Wheels program, as well as the Home Delivered Meals Program.

Sandler supervises multiple projects throughout Klein JCC, including RSVP and Meals On Wheels.

Sandler also plays an integral role in the Mitzvah Food Project, which provides 1,900 people in 900 households with food packages, according to its website.

Klein JCC also supports more than eight produce gardens, which are cultivated and harvested by seniors.

Eskate and Sandler have also overseen the addition of a new greenhouse, which came courtesy of a federal grant. The greenhouse will be located at the Chai House on Welsh Road and Alberger street.

The lumber for the build already sits at the Chai House and will be used for the eight 4-by-10-foot structures.

The vegetables grown through the Grow For A Friend program will be used in a soup that will be made for the Meals On Wheels program, which will serve over 1,900 people.

The Cook For a Friend program will also help make the soup and other food at the Chai House that will help seniors throughout Northeast Philadelphia.

Eskate said he is optimistic the Grow For a Friend program will be a success, helping the Greater Northeast’s needy.

This is a new experience for Eskate, who graduated from Messiah College with a bachelor of arts in Christian ministries. Eskate has no prior growing experience, but is learning on the fly. When asked why he chose this project, Eskate said it started in college.

Newly planted vegetables need daily watering, which John Eskate does regularly
Newly planted vegetables need daily watering, which John Eskate does regularly.

“My favorite class in college was ‘Introduction to Horticulture’ at Messiah [College],” Eskate said. “It’s all been a very interesting learning process for me, and it’s something I’ve really enjoyed.”

Part of the success seen in the produce gardens has been due to the different types of people invested in the various projects.

“The Bhutanese guys have taught me a lot about growing already, and it’s only been a few weeks.” Eskate explains. “It helps to have people around who actually know what they’re doing. It’s helped tremendously.”

The Meals on Wheels program helps serve people all across Philadelphia, especially seniors living in Northeast Philly.

According to Raechel Hammer, Klein JCC’s VP of Development & Compliance, over 60 percent of Philadelphia’s residents over the age of 100 live in Northeast Philly. Of the 220 people over the age of 100 living in Philadelphia, 135 live in Northeast Philly.

“With a lot of elders living in Northeast Philly, it’s important what Klein is doing.” Hammer said. “We’re here to make sure seniors and others get the help they need.”

– Text, images and video by Ean Dunn and Steve Foltz

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