Yad Aharon selflessly does the walk, week after week
Alice Friedman, managing director of Yad Aharon and Michael.
Friedman joined the organisation 18 years ago and has been at the helm for the last eight. She has a background in personnel consulting and psychology and her empathetic attitude towards her “clients” has gone a long way to ensure the success and development of the organisation.
“It was started by two women (who have since emigrated) in Yeoville. They started cooking for needy Jews from their homes for Shabbos and Yomtov.”
But the organisation continued and flourished and now has its headquarters in Main Street opposite the Sydenham-Highlands North Hebrew Congregation.
“Maintaining the dignity of our clients tops our list of priorities and our weekly food parcels include fish, meat, chicken, eggs, cheese, vegetables, fruit, bread and potatoes. We believe that giving fresh produce parcels gives our families the opportunity to decide how they want to cook the contents which encourages independence, creativity and gives our clients a sense of purpose,” Friedman told SA Jewish Report.
She exudes compassion and chesed and works from her office surrounded by personal mementoes, novelties and fluffy toy animals. This immediately serves to make visitors feel welcome and cared for.
At its inception, the organisation had no name, but when it was taken over by Rabbi Moshe Schnerb, it was named after Rabbi Aharon Pfeuffer and Michael Zive, who were killed in a road accident. “Last year was their 20th yahrzeit,” Friedman said. “We remain committed to emulating their unique brand of chesed and Yad is their legacy.”
Yad Aharon and Michael is at its busiest before Pesach and the Yamim Noraim, when they organise major appeals.
“There is a big misconception that the boxes and parcels we give out are donated. In reality, we pay for everything in full and a week’s produce costs between R65 000 and R70 000.”
Two fulltime drivers deliver to clients living in Berea, Yeoville and Observatory and volunteer drivers selflessly report for duty each week. Clients who don’t mind collecting their own, are encouraged to “give back” to the organisation by delivering a couple of additional food parcels to people living in their area.
“All our projects are established in response to the needs of the recipients. For example, Ohr Natanel was founded as a much-needed monthly lunchbox project for children, which provides our school-going children with “treats” such as biscuits, crackers, cheeses, crisps and vegetarian polony.
“It enables the children to compare and swap their lunches with their peers, without feeling left out. Sadly, some of our families consume the contents of these lunchboxes to supplement their meagre diets.”
Yad’s in-house supermarket enables clients to “shop” for groceries and dry goods and the popularity of this service mirrors the financial stress which has been escalating over the past few years. The shelves are kept well stocked thanks to the generosity of the children from various Jewish day schools which participate in this initiative.
The clothing store stocks good quality second-hand clothing and furniture donations are also welcome. “The best is given to our clients, while the rest is sold to generate much-needed income. In the current economy, we have to be proactive and supplement our fundraising through income-generating initiatives.”
Friedman says many of the recipients – from young marrieds to retirees – are employed, but earn very little. “If they have R100, they have to debate whether to pay for electricity, airtime or other basic essentials,” Friedman says.
“As the leading and largest food parcels distribution organisation in Johannesburg, Yad Aharon and Michael plays a vital role in dealing with the nutritional insecurity in our community. Our clients rely on us and we are committed to providing them with the understanding and compassion they deserve.”
The organisation also runs a soup kitchen, which is indicative of the need to feed those battling in these difficult times.