Volunteers participate in cook for a friend program


Courtesy of Congregation Beth El

Congregation Beth El is one of several participants in the Cook for a Friend Program

Sam Grossman, Eastside Staff

On November 1, 1,190 meals were made and packaged at the Congregation Beth El in Voorhees, New Jersey. The meals were sent to many poverty stricken and needy people in the area.

This event was part of the Cook for a Friend program, which is a community based non-profit organization whose volunteers prepare and deliver homemade meals to poor people of all ages in the local area. The meals are boxed and transported to several different locations and charities by volunteer drivers. Congregation Beth El is one of several participants in the Cook for a Friend program.

Renee Kessler, a long time member of Congregation Beth El and current president of the Beth El Sisterhood, has been involved with Cook for a Friend for 10 years. She organized Sunday’s Cook for a Friend event.

“This started as an annual event for National Make a Difference Day,” Kessler said. “I got interested in doing this when I first participated in the Make a Difference Day with my family. I saw the continuing need in our community by so many for food. It started with preparing meals for the [Jewish Family and Children’s Services] seniors who could not afford the Meals on Wheels Cook for a Friend program and continued to our own congregants.”

In addition to being tasty, it was important that the meals provided nutritional value, as the meal could be the only hot meal a recipient may have in a week. Each meal included a protein such as ground beef or chicken, a starch and a vegetable.

We surpassed our goal of 1,000 meals. The final total was 1,190 meals – more than we’ve ever done in 5 hours,” Kessler said in an email that was sent to participants. “Each and every one of [the participants] was key in completing this mitzvah.” (A mitzvah is a hebrew term that literally translates into “commandment” but in Judaism means charity).

Students from Cherry Hill East were involved in the execution of the event as well.

“I did it because it helps people that are hungry. We cook 1,000 meals in the morning and send them out to different organizations,” said Ross Cogan (‘19), a long-time participant of the project.  Ross participates with his parents and his sister.

Some of the recipients include the Boys and Girls Club in Camden, Cathedral Kitchen, Faces of Change, Seeds of Hope, Klein JCC/KleinLife in Northeast Philadelphia, New Visions Day Center, LifeLink Homes, Robins’ Nest, the Christian Caring Center in Browns Mills, Beth El Chesed freezer, JFCS and Catholic Charities Emergency Services.

“The need has just expanded to today where we are reaching out beyond our Jewish Community to the broader local communities needs,” said Kessler.

A representative from Seeds of Hope Ministries, one of the groups receiving meals from Cook for a Friend, said in an email sent to Kessler, “Each of those meals will meet a real need here in Camden… They will reach the homeless, men recently released from prison and ladies on the street addicted to drugs who have turned to prostitution to support their habits. The last batch of meals that you provided us with were a huge hit and did not last very long. That’s a good thing.”

The project’s volunteers will be cooking meals for JFCS clients for Thanksgiving soon. Until then, many poor people’s dark days will lighten when they receive a warm, homemade meal from strangers – friends, who care.