By Colleen Sparks
In a world where people often clash over politics, religion and social issues, an unusual food pantry in North Central Phoenix gives diverse visitors from all walks of life a warm welcome and support when they need it.
Arizona Kosher Pantry provides fruits, vegetables, meat and other foods, along with medical equipment and other kinds of support to anyone who is struggling. The nonprofit organization, which is part of Ezras Cholim of Arizona, has been serving the community from its new location at 7118 N. 7th St., the building that used to house The Classy Kitchen consignment store, since January. Previously the kosher pantry, which opened in 2018, had been renting space at 6516 N. 7th St.
People of any religious, ethnic or racial backgrounds, ages and genders can get kosher food, including peanut butter, fruit, vegetables, pretzels, macaroni and cheese, eggs, milk, salmon, ground white turkey, chicken, Israeli Matzah, ice cream and numerous other products at the pantry.
The pantry only offers kosher foods, which conform to the Jewish dietary regulations of kashrut (dietary law). If people donate foods that are non-kosher, the pantry will pass it along to other food banks.
“We have everything you would find at a grocery store except not as much,” said Yecheskel Friedman, CEO and co-founder of Arizona Kosher Pantry and Ezras Cholim. “Outside the world is at war. Inside this door, everybody is at peace.”
Friedman and James Gross started Ezras Cholim of Arizona in 2015 to help people facing illness in the greater Phoenix Jewish community.
Arizona Kosher Pantry partners with many other organizations. St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance provides fruits, vegetables and packaged goods and Midwest Food Bank gives packaged, non-perishable foods to Arizona Kosher Pantry to serve the community.
The food pantry helps people who have visited Dignity Health St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center’s clinic who may be struggling, providing food to them and taking them grocery shopping.
Arizona Kosher Pantry also delivers kosher, home-cooked meals to elderly and disabled people in their homes and offers kosher meals to people being treated at The Meadows, an alcohol and drug addiction treatment center in Wickenburg. Families whose sick children are staying in the Ronald McDonald House also receive kosher meals from the pantry.
People who fly to Arizona from Israel so their family members for treatment in the Barrow Neurological Institute also get help from the pantry. The pantry team meets them at the airport and brings them kosher meals while they are staying in Phoenix for treatment, provides transportation and help with lodging.
Arizona Kosher Pantry serves 300 to 500 families a month and it receives 3,000 to 5,000 pounds of food every week. People are not questioned about their financial status, but must show identification and are asked to come no more than once a week.
“If they’re coming here, they’re coming here for a reason,” said Julia Almoslino, food director at Arizona Kosher Pantry. “You put yourself in their shoes. How would you feel? We’re a tight community. It’s neighbors helping neighbors.”
People who already are financially strapped often feel the strain even more during Jewish holidays including Passover, eight days when leavened food and corn are prohibited. During the month of Passover the kosher pantry usually sees 300 more families visiting than usual, Almoslino said.
She and Friedman say their new location, which the nonprofit Ezras Cholim now owns, is larger and more accessible than the previous space. Friedman said he would like to turn the front area of the pantry, where people come to pick up food, into a kosher soup kitchen and then enclose the existing warehouse to house the pantry there.
Besides providing food, the pantry also gives people in need wheelchairs and other medical supplies and can help them search for appropriate housing.
Almoslino’s son, Yaakov, 17, who has cerebral palsy, frequently volunteers at the pantry. “I love volunteering,” Yaakov said. “I love to give back to other people.”
On a recent Friday about 25 children in Camp Gan Israel out of Chabad Jewish Center of Gilbert packed the pantry, putting fruit in boxes for recipients.
“There is nothing more important than the kids learning to give to the community,” said Chavie Ash, director of Chabad Jewish Center of Gilbert and of Camp Gan Israel. “As Jews, food is a central part of life every week.”
Dmitry Pustylnikov, public relations director for Arizona Kosher Pantry, said the kosher pantry serves a diverse population and some of them come back to volunteer.
For hours and other information about the pantry, including how to donate or volunteer, call 602-492-4989 or visit www.azkosherpantry.org.