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Tackling poverty and family crises

Gural JCC creates a ‘sustenance center’in former art gallery space

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Volunteers worked quickly but carefully as they packed ceramic pieces, art supplies and equipment at the Owl 57 Gallery in Cedarhurst on May 19. They were making room for a “sustenance center,” to be created by the Marion & Aaron Gural JCC in the 3,000-square-foot space in Maple Plaza.

The JCC plans to move its Rina Shkolnik Kosher Food Pantry there from its 700-square-foot location in Woodmere, as one component of a center that will offer JCC clients enhanced social services.

There will be space for three social workers, computer stations at which clients can work on their resumes and use the internet to look for work, clothing they can wear for job interviews and refrigerators for perishable food along with the nonperishable staples already offered at the pantry.

All of the items from Owl 57, meanwhile, will be moved to the Gural JCC’s Harrison-Kerr Family Campus in Lawrence.

In honor of the centennial this year of the UJA-Federation of New York, a philanthropic organization that partners with the JCC, an anonymous donor made a one-time capital donation for the sustenance center. The UJA-Federation does not disclose the amounts of gifts that it receives, officials said.

“This is to better serve the needs of our clients,” said Stacey Feldman, the JCC’s assistant executive director, as she gave a Herald reporter a tour of the new location last Friday. “We want to create a warm, welcoming environment.”

To create a hospitable atmosphere, especially for clients to “shop” for food, the owner of a chain of supermarkets — introduced to JCC officials by the UJA-Federation — enlisted his architect-designer to fashion a space that will include “7-Eleven-like glass door refrigerators,” Feldman said. “Shoppers will be able to get milk, cheese, yogurt, eggs and cold cuts.”

The JCC’s push for a larger space to help its clients grew out of a 2011 UJA-Federation survey on poverty in the metropolitan area, explained the center’s executive director, Joel Block.

In reviewing the data, he noted that about 20 percent of the 100,000 Jews in the Town of Hempstead live at or below the poverty level in the box-shaped area between Freeport and the Nassau-Queens line. Poverty, according to the statistics, is based not only on income level, but on the number of people in a household (see chart).

Battling poverty and a lack of food with the aim of helping people feel more secure is part of the mission of the UJA-Federation, Block said, adding that JCC clients face a variety of crises ranging from unemployment to health problems that can create financial burdens.

“I was handing out turkeys one year at the food pantry, and this young girl came around the corner fast, smacking into me, and then she hugged me,” he recalled. “I don’t want her and other children to have bad memories as they’re growing up.”

Block said he expected the sustenance center to open before the Jewish High Holy Days of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.

The Owl 57 Gallery plans to retain space for its framing business, but owner Ric Michel donated his Ceramix Studio — complete with a kiln, instructional programs and art supplies — to the JCC, which will enhance its art program offerings, Block said. The hours of the sustenance center have yet to be established, but it is expected to be open a few days during the week and on Sundays, Feldman said.

“The goal is to create a place for people to get food and services anonymously, while keeping their dignity,” said Amy Mosery, a JCC board member, who coordinated the volunteer crew.