Michigan Kosher Pantry Serves Over 1M Pounds of Food a Year

BERKLEY, Mich. (AP) -
Banners made by area schools hang over some of the items given out at Yad Ezra in Berkley, Mich., Friday, July 16, 2021. (Kirthmon F. Dozier/Detroit Free Press via AP)

Yad Ezra, a kosher food pantry in Berkley, stands alone as the only food pantry in Michigan dedicated to serving the Jewish community in metro Detroit.

Founded in 1990 as a response to the lack of support for Jewish families struggling with food insecurity, the pantry serves nearly 1 million pounds of food each year to metro Detroit families in need. And the need is great.

“One in 20 Jewish families are food insecure,” Daniella Mechnikov, the new executive director said. The pantry itself serves these Jewish families, along with many others. “A very large percentage of our clients come from the former USSR, which I’d say make up 45% of our clients.”

For every sign in English outside the pantry, there’s an accompanying one in Russian, the Detroit Free Press reports.

Recently, Yad Ezra employed the new executive director, marking its first leadership change in nearly 30 years and a new mission to expand outreach efforts and support services in the communities it serves.

Mechnikov, 52, of Huntington Woods, took over as executive director of the pantry on June 1, after longtime chief Lea Luger retired. “I feel privileged to have been a part of Yad Ezra for almost three decades,” said Luger in a news release. “Yad Ezra has never lost its vision or sense of mission, treating clients with respect and dignity and doing whatever it takes to ensure that no one suffers from food insecurity.”

“One of my roles is to educate and advocate for issues relating to food insecurity,” said Mechnikov, who has a background in marketing. “There’s a misconception that people in the Jewish community are all well off, when, in reality, that’s not the case.

In the Orthodox community, it is harder for them to receive support from regular food pantries and food support programs.

“Regular chicken may cost, let’s say, $1.99 a pound. Kosher chicken would then cost $9.99 a pound,”said Mechnikov.

Metro Detroit, in particular, has been a bastion of the Jewish community.

But despite its cultural roots, the pantry is open to everyone, regardless of religious beliefs.

“We serve all communities, the African American community, the Hispanic community, the Middle Eastern community, anyone who wants to come in is welcome,” Mechnikov said.

Recently, the food pantry partnered with Our Lady of La Salette, a Catholic church in Berkley, to start a program of growing food, with a 5,000-square-foot patch of land behind the church being used for growing produce. In addition to this partnership, there’s a greenhouse connected to the food pantry where more produce is grown for the purposes of distribution. More than 60 unique produce items were harvested in the greenhouse in 2020.

This is part of Mechnikov’s efforts to expand the pantry’s outreach and support networks. The pantry also partners with the Jewish Federation of Metro Detroit, Jewish Family Service of Metro Detroit, and Kosher Meals on Wheels, and draws its hundreds of yearly volunteers from organizations like Metro Detroit Public Schools, Ford, Chrysler, Beaumont and Blue Cross Blue Shield.

“I think we collaborate well,” she said. “I’m optimistic for Yad Ezra’s future.”