Jewish Family Service Receives $100K Grant for Food Pantry and Mobile Food Service

by Emily Gould May 1, 2019


jfs-grantFood insecurity plagues millions of families all over the United States, and the city of San Diego is no exception. About 15% (or 1 in 7) of San Diegans identify as being food insecure, meaning that they do not have reliable access to a sufficient quantity of nutritious and affordable food. 486,000 people (163,000 children) is too large of a number to be ignored; that’s why the Jewish Family Service of San Diego has made their Hand Up Food Pantry. a priority. Rooted in Jewish values, the Pantry provides food to all those who ask for it.

Recently, the JFS was bestowed a generous grant of $100,000 from the S. Mark Taper Foundation in order to continue providing their much needed services to the community.

“The premise of the Food Pantry is to provide a ‘hand up,’ not a ‘hand out’” says director Sasha Escue. The project teaches its clients to make educated, health-conscious decisions for themselves. Because Hand Up clientele do not have access to an amount of food necessary for an active and healthy lifestyle, the JFS has created a holistic food pantry experience with wrap-around services that distributes over 100,000 pounds of fresh produce and nutritious non-perishables annually.

“Not every can of food is created equal,” Sasha explains, so while the majority of food pantries provide mostly canned food (due to its convenience and shelf-life), Hand Up is in the business of ensuring plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables are available. Hand Up also makes it a priority to create educated and responsible clients. This is achieved through the Food Pantry’s flagship service: the on-site market. It’s set up like any regular grocery store, but the currency is based on a point system (the number of points any customer receives is contingent on household size). The point system allows customers unlimited produce (fresh fruits and vegetables) and a limited amount of pre-packaged food. The purpose of the points is to assist in practical fiscal responsibility, while underlining nutritional education–especially if customers experience any dietary restrictions or chronic health conditions–as less healthy options (pre-packaged food) cost more points. Therefore, customers make their own decisions on where to spend their points. For extra help, the market has JFS staff on-site as well as volunteers and interns (studying topics like Nutrition or Public Health) from local universities. These interns–from affiliated community health advocates Vastyr and UCSD–provide recipe ideas and assist with purchasing for dietary restrictions and specific living conditions (i.e. a lack of a kitchen).

They have local partnerships with Starbucks, Whole Foods, Target, Vons, and Ralph’s. JFS staff participate in a nightly “fresh rescue;” going to said retailers and sorting through “ugly” produce or packaged food that is past its “best by” date.These items have a shelf-life well past their printed date and are safe for Food Pantry use, but would be ineligible for sale and otherwise would be destined for the landfill. This recovery program prevents food waste while giving Hand Up clients a cost effective way to access nutritious products.

In conjunction with the Hand Up Food Pantry, the JFS provides a mobile food service to homebound and food insecure individuals in the San Diego area as well. As a member of Meals on Wheels America, the JFS FoodMobile visits clients at home and delivers supplemental groceries, as well as hot and frozen kosher meals. Recipients of this program are homebound adults over 60, and younger disabled adults. Because FoodMobile clients often have limited means of cooking, they are provided with ingredients that are very easy to cook, fresh produce, bread, and pastries in order to maintain self-sufficiency while accommodating different lifestyles.

Also part of Hand Up’s mobile assistance programs are the twice-monthly food deliveries to military families within San Diego. Many people are unaware of the high number of military families that are in need of food assistance in our community. In order to ease the burden, JFS makes bi-weekly food distributions at Murphy Canyon Military Housing Complex–where the highest condensed number of military members in the nation live. Meeting active military members, veterans, and their families at home and providing them with groceries not only helps ease the stress of finding affordable and nutritious items, but also aids in educating them about overall health and nutrition.

Besides their food-related programs, Hand Up also offers a Diaper Bank to its clients. Made possible via partnership with the San Diego Food Bank, the Diaper Bank Program is a recent initiative that provides families in-need with diapers. At up to $80 for a month-long supply for just one child, diapers are a seemingly small item of necessity that can have a huge impact on a struggling family. This initiative is just another way that Hand Up provides low-income families with the tools they need for success.

The JFS recently celebrated its 100th year anniversary and is proud to continue its legacy in San Diego county. With over 360,000 meals and 2,500 clients served in the last fiscal year, it’s clear that the reach of Hand Up is a key factor in aiding underserved populations in the area. Sasha maintains that “without our partners and donors, we wouldn’t be able to make such an impact.” The JFS would like to thank all of their volunteers and affiliates (especially the S. Mark Taper Foundation) for all the time, money, and effort put into creating such high-quality services for food-insecure San Diego families.

If you would like to donate to or volunteer with the Jewish Family Service Food Pantry or any of their other programs, please visit

If you or someone you know is in need of services, please call 858-637-3210 or visit:


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