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Jewish community service dedicated to assisting vulnerable people during the Pandemic

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Three students from the University of Toronto formed a non-profit to help vulnerable community members suffering under pandemic limitations (Logo supplied)

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Chesed vs Covid-19 is a non-profit organization that was created to meet the needs of older adults, disabled and immunocompromised people who need assistance with food shopping and errands during the current Covid-19 pandemic.  Co-founded by three Toronto university students, Shmuel Zvi Juni, Raphael Friedman and Yoni Somogyi, its primary goals are to provide this population with a means of accessing food so they can stay safely at home and to reduce the spread of Coronavirus in the community.  

Services offered by Chesed vs. Covid aside from assisting with shopping include helping out with errands, delivery of donations from food banks and soup kitchens as well as food deliveries from family and friends who lack the means to transport prepared meals and other food items on their own. 

The founders, dispatchers and volunteers work with the community to share resources with those in need. They have put together an active volunteer base, a carefully constructed website and a phone hotline for requests. Shmuel updates the website and Facebook page and manages the dispatchers. The other two founders, Raphael and Yoni, are more hands-on, coordinating volunteers, and ensuring that clients are contacted and can access the food they need.Chana Friedman (Raphael’s sister) is one of the dispatchers, and has been with the organization since the beginning. She is also involved in day-to-day administration. 

The OU’s Jewish learning initiative on campus (OU-JLIC) under the leadership of Rabbi Aaron Greenberg, “are partners in our success”, says Shmuel Juni. “They have been instrumental in volunteer recruitment, mask, glove and government funding procurement  and more. “ Hillel Toronto, another Jewish student organization, serves Jewish Students of all levels of observance, and  provided volunteers as well for Chesed vs. Covid. 

Visits from the volunteers that shop for and deliver food offers the side benefit of reducing the social isolation and loneliness of the clients. Among those helped have been cancer patients, an organ donor, quarantined people, Holocaust survivors, and people with special needs. It is particularly problematic for seniors and others living alone to manage with little or no social contact with family, friends or social programs due to the impact of the pandemic. 

Sometimes clients will ask for specific volunteers because they enjoy their visits and volunteers may request to assist clients with whom they have bonded. The resilience of older people can be inspiring to volunteers, yet both seniors and volunteers have much to learn from each other. 

According to the mandate of Chesed vs Covid, all purchased food is required to be kosher whether or not the client observes kashruth. For those who are not kosher, volunteers encourage them to choose kosher options when they are available. No Frills on Center Street in Thornhill has an arrangement with the BAYT or Beth Avraham Yoseph Synagogue on Clark Ave. where the synagogue has the credit card numbers of isolated members on file and arranges the payment for the food that has been purchased for them on their behalf. Some stores allow clients at home to give the cashier the credit card information over the phone without involving the volunteer in the process. E-transfer payments to Chesed vs Covid 19 can be used by those who have computer access.  

Unfortunately, the organization is not able to help people who cannot afford groceries; when the situation arises, they generally refer them to other community programs which can serve them better. If a client is unable to come to the door, arrangements can be made with a caregiver or PSW to accept the groceries on their behalf.

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Should a client exhibit signs of anxiety or depression, JACS or the Jewish Addiction Community Service, has been providing free professional mental health counseling to homebound community members who are experiencing difficulty coping with Covid under the sponsorship of the UJA resiliency fund. Covid vs Chesed is actively looking for more people who may be isolated and need assistance.  If the client base expands, they may need more volunteers. 

By helping the clients, Raphael Friedman, one of the founders says “You can see directly how your actions can have an impact in the community, see how they can literally save lives.” 

The Canadian government recently awarded them funds to create more incentives for volunteers which has  contributed to the purchase of 3 gift cards to be auctioned off. This gesture provides a way to thank  volunteers and encourage more to come on board. 

Natalie and Maya Milevsky (left) and Rachel Offenhim (right) are among the hard working volunteers of Chesed vs Covid (Photos: supplied)

Another founder, Yoni Somogyi said, “Chesed vs. Covid-19 began as a small idea and turned into making a real impact on many. “  

Shmuel Juni, the 3rd founder related: “There was one woman who would call us every week to make her request. However, after a couple of weeks of not getting any calls, a dispatcher called her to make sure everything was alright, and she said that she had been in the hospital with pneumonia and just been discharged, and had no food in the house. We were able to get a volunteer right away. 

“Another time, after speaking on the phone with one certain elderly lady who rarely expressed emotions over the phone, she broke down in tears and expressed her thanks, and said “you have no idea how much you are helping me, Thank you!” 

Juni concluded: “I Hope will be a day they will not need us anymore, but if they do, we’ll be there.” 

If you need assistance or want to volunteer, please go to https://www.ChesedvsCovid19.com, call (647) 725-4549 or email: [email protected] 

Judy Weinryb is a published author who facilitates a Creative Writing class on zoom at the Bernard Betel Centre for Creative Living. She has been a freelance writer for the Canadian Jewish News, the Jewish Tribune and the Markham Review. A social worker for many years, she has an interest in Jewish Community from both a professional and personal perspective.

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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

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