Local | Volunteer Salute

Matza & More brings seder supplies to families in need

L-R) Gail Ben-Jamin, Ben Siegel and Ester Siegel pack Passover bags at Jewish Family & Children’s Services of Southern Arizona in 2014.

The Matza & More program sponsored by Jewish Family & Children’s Services brings Passover bags to Tucson-area residents who otherwise could not afford food and other items for a seder. From children to seniors, volunteers find significant connections in this longstanding program.

Gary Cohen’s two sons, Grant, 11, and Austin, 9, recently noticed a Passover display at AJ’s grocery store, and asked, “Are we doing the delivery again this year?” This is the fourth year that Cohen and his sons will be delivering Passover bags.

“It is really great to know that the boys are old enough to have an appreciation for what we are doing,” says Cohen, an attorney who is a Tucson native. He says he talks with his sons about how their participation is part of being Jewish.

One delivery made a special impact on Grant and Austin. Cohen said that the elderly person who received the basket talked to the boys about being so grateful to receive this gift. “What we are doing, delivering food, also teaches kids to have gratitude for what they have. Food is easy for some but not others,” Cohen says.

Chloe Brown, a junior at the University of Arizona with a major in speech, hearing and language, comes from Las Vegas, but is happy to give back to her adopted community. This is the second year she will volunteer for the Matza & More program. She is in charge of philanthropy for her sorority, Alpha Epsilon Phi, and last year got 10 to 15 members of her sorority to volunteer.

Last year, one of the people Brown delivered food to had a medical condition that relates to her major. “We have learned about several medical conditions in my classes, and some day I could potentially be working with patients that have this type of medical condition. It is cool to be able to relate this volunteer work to other things in my life,” she says.

Gail Ben-Jamin, a retired respiratory therapist, has a very special connection to the Matza & More program. During the 1970s, living in California, divorced, with two kids and no child support, she was on welfare. About a month before Passover she got a phone call from someone who said that he would like to deliver a Passover basket. She received these baskets for a few years.

“It makes me feel so good to volunteer because I know what it feels like,” says Ben-Jamin. “I like to move it forward a little bit here and a little bit there, and I hope people are inspired by me.”

Her only regret about making Matza & More deliveries is that she can’t do it on her motorcycle, which she’s ridden across the United States and in Canada and Mexico.

“I have a place in my heart for the issue of hunger,” says Nancy Lefkowitz, who is serving as Matza & More chairperson for the fifth year. “I also volunteer at the Community Food Bank. It is terrible that people don’t have food.”

Lefkowitz says Matza and More, which has been around for more than 40 years, has about 50 volunteers, including committee members, packers and drivers. Nearly 200 bags of food will be delivered to individuals and families this year.

The agencies and organizations that contribute to the Matza & More program include Temple Emanu-El and Congregations Anshei Israel, Bet Shalom, Chaverim, Chofetz Chayim, M’Kor Hayim, Or Chadash and Young Israel/Chabad Tucson, Beth Shalom Temple Center of Green Valley, Chabad Oro Valley, Secular Humanist Jewish Circle, University of Arizona Hillel Foundation, Tucson Hebrew Academy, the Institute for Judaic Services and Studies/SaddleBrooke community and Sprouts Market.

In the past, the synagogues donated the grocery items, but this year they are giving monetary donations so JFCS can order the food from Safeway, ensuring that all the bags are filled with everything on the list. THA will contribute macaroons and greeting cards created by students, and Anshei Israel will contribute matza. Apples, onions and potatoes will be donated by Shamrock Foods. JFCS is providing re-usable bags designed to commemorate its 75th anniversary, and will also provide gift cards from Fry’s to cover items not included in the bags. The bags will also contain the “30-Minute Seder” Haggadah, donated by author Robert Kopman. This year, the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona donated $500 to the Matza & More program as one of 40 donations it is making to commemorate the food bank’s 40th anniversary.

Lefkowitz says that they don’t need more volunteers to pack bags or deliver them, but are seeking additional monetary donations. To donate, visit https://jfcstucson.org/donate/matza-more/ or call 795-0300.