Passover Food Package Distribution & Transition to Adapt to COVID-19 Realities

A “hero” is defined as a person who is admired for their courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities and celebrated for their skill and actions.

Jewish Community Council of Greater Coney Island (JCCGCI), especially during times of crisis is an organization full of heroes, who prioritize the needs of our organization and the clients we serve over their own, often at great self-sacrifice. [Previously, thanks to the resilience of our staff, JCCGCI prevailed over the destruction and devastation of Superstorm Sandy].

During the past two weeks, those who participated in our Passover Food Package Distribution (despite the current health crisis and the risks involved) demonstrated incredible concern for the needs of some of our most vulnerable clients.

JCCGCI staff recognized that it would be unsafe for our food distribution to proceed as it normally does with seniors crowded and lined up outside our offices. There would be no safe way to implement social distancing in such a scenario. Instead, JCCGCI staff made the courageous decision to do door to door deliveries to 800 seniors (almost all residing in high rise apartment buildings), utilizing JCCGCI’s Senior Citizen Transportation Program minibuses and three of our wonderful JCCGCI drivers – Iris, Harold and Yaakov, with complex routes masterfully designed by Daniella Russ  (JCCGCI’s Transportation Program’s Administrative Coordinator) and with deliveries of heavy packages done by a valiant group of JCCGCI staff, assisted by volunteers from the American Red Cross, Met Council, and New York Cares and with assistance from the Sea Gate Police Department vehicles and Police Officers, thanks to the magnanimity of Chief Jeffrey Fortunato and the leadership of the Sea Gate Association.

We have something more to be proud of. Met Council, the source of food packages for about 30 kosher food pantries citywide and over 100 distribution sites for holiday food – shared with us after our Rosh Hashanah food package distribution (at which Mayor de Blasio personally participated) that they believe that JCCGCI’s food package distribution was the most organized and best-run food package distribution in the entire NYC kosher food network – and that they recognize that the source of this organizational expertise is JCCGCI’s Sara Chamama (who serves as Special Assistant/Resource Development Specialist in our Executive Offices).

Please join me in celebrating all our JCCGCI heroes and especially those who volunteered to work so assiduously at personal risk to participate this year in our Passover Food Package Distribution and let us be particularly proud that we are blessed with the organizational skills of individuals like Sara Chamama!

Let us also recognize and be so deeply grateful for the colossal and tenacious effort — accomplished with impressive professional competency and expertise — to transition most of our staff and programs to remote operations while maintaining our core central office functionality and securing the support of our funding sources – led with passion and devotion by Chief of Staff Riva Heller, Human Resources Director Elinor Sandler, IT Director Kayza Kleinman, CFO Chana Noble and Office Manager Inna Karalitskiy and their competent, caring and dedicated teams.


The history of this crisis will not omit those of our staff on the front lines who risked personal exposure to continue meal service to close to a thousand elderly through our senior centers, under the leadership of Senior Center Supervising Director Grace Brandi and her team of incredibly devoted Senior Center Directors (Grace Brandi herself at our Coney Island Seaside Innovative Senior Center; Marina Davydov at our Haber House Senior Center, Rosanne DeGennaro at our Marlboro Senior Center, Brocha Shereshevsky and now Rachel Lutsker at our Jay-Harama Senior Center and Sam Mikhli at our Ocean Parkway Senior Center) and their diligent, hard-working kitchen, custodial and social service staff.

Less visible might be all our homecare, transportation and social work staff who maintain vital, in-person assistance to our most vulnerable clients (including close to 3,000 Holocaust survivors) at great personal risk, motivated and led by Homecare Coordinator Esther Mittelman, Transportation Program Director Avigail Adler, Director of Client Services Aliza Kelman, Contract Manager Hudi Falik, Case Management Supervisor Zehava Birman Wallace and their outstanding teams of dedicated direct service providers.

Throughout our local Coney Island community, our Urban Neighborhood Services (UNS) multi-service center (see: and Operation HOOD Cure Violence program (see: staff and volunteers continue to serve those in need with manifold human service initiatives, despite the risk involved, under the expert and inspiring leadership of Keisha Boatswain and Derick Latif Scott. Special mention should be made of the efforts of Keisha Boatswain and her UNS team to create (on top of all their other responsibilities) a COVID-19 volunteer response effort in the Coney Island community.

We thank all our other program directors who are working so diligently devising and implementing brilliant strategies to maintain services despite site closures and program restrictions, including Rivkah Berman for our Adult Literacy programs (with sites throughout the low-income immigrant communities in all five boroughs)<