- Nutrition Program
The menu featured wonton soup, chicken stir fry with steamed rice and vegetables, cold noodle salad with crispy wontons and peanut dressing, green salad, fruit salad, and tapioca pudding. It was not a new, Asian-inspired restaurant. It was sustenance for people in need; lovingly prepared, packaged, and delivered by volunteers for JFCS clients, including low-income families and seniors. The volunteers are called Chicken Soupers, and they gather approximately once a month to provide food for those who need it. In Marin, the Chicken Soupers come from San Rafael’s Brandeis Hillel Day School (soon to be called Brandeis Marin.)
“Programs like Chicken Soupers really do nourish and strengthen our community in so many ways,” says Nancy Masters, MSW, MPH, director of JFCS in Marin County. “Our clients often call to say how much they enjoy these delicious home-cooked meals, and visiting with the wonderful families who deliver them. Our partnership with Brandeis, and the generosity of the families involved, are critical to the success of this program.”
“We have collaborated with JFCS on several projects in the past. We are great community partners,” agrees Leah Lamstein, a Brandeis Hillel Day School board member and trustee who helps organize the volunteers.
“Our core principles are integrity, kindness and service, and our mission is for the students to live these principles. This project with was a logical and natural fit for our school,” Lamstein says. She notes that what makes this project truly special is that families can participate together.
On a recent Sunday afternoon volunteers met at Whistlestop in San Rafael, which donates the kitchen space. A designated shopper delivered grocery bags brimming with raw ingredients, and the team quickly divvied up tasks.
Nathan Tirschwell, 10, and his mom, D’vora began chopping vegetables. “Nathan and I cook a lot together at home. He has his own set of knives and real knife skills,” says D’vora proudly. This is the third time the Greenbrae family has volunteered. “It’s wonderful to give back to the community by cooking for others,” she says.
Aly Geller and her 12-year-old son, Rudy Lee, tackled the tapioca pudding. “It makes me feel good that I’m doing something for other people,” says Rudy, manipulating the electric mixer. Later Geller’s husband, Stephen Lee, will arrive to help deliver the meals to approximately a dozen recipients spread throughout Marin Country. The San Anselmo family is also involved with the Rotating Emergency Shelter Team (REST) in Marin County, as well as other initiatives through their synagogue, Congregation Kol Shofar in Tiburon. They believe it is important to show Rudy that not everyone enjoys the same standard of living that they do.
“We live in a bubble in Marin County. We need our kids to understand that a half mile away there are people who are hungry and have nowhere to sleep,” Geller says.
According to Alli Darrow, YouthFirst Coordinator at JFCS’ San Rafael office, the intergenerational program is a wonderful way to get families involved in a values-based project that fulfills JFCS’ mission of caring for those who are experiencing challenges in life—whether it’s big life transitions or day to day issues.
“This project is a great introduction to JFCS and what we do. It is a touch point for families to meet our clients, and participate in a people-to-people service experience,” she says.
“It’s an easy and accessible way for busy families to do something meaningful together. All it requires is several hours on a Sunday, or a few hours to shop for food and drop it off,” Darrow adds.
Participants sign up by contacting JFCS. Middle and high school students who need volunteer hours for graduation can get them through this program. According to Darrow, children as young as age five can help. “We generally have the little ones divide cookies or color the bags the meals are delivered in,” she says.
Chicken Soupers began in San Francisco, where it is still ongoing. It launched in Marin in 2014. The JFCS clients who receive the meals, about half of whom are Jewish, are selected because they receive other services from JFCS, such as senior care or counseling.
While not strictly kosher, the food does not include red meat, pork or shellfish. A meal typically includes freshly-prepared soup, a main course, bread, vegetables, salad and dessert. The food is prepared in accordance with safety protocols. The generous portions last more than a day, and are given to JFCS clients for free.
The Chicken Soupers are taking the summer off but will be back in the kitchen when school resumes in the fall. To get involved, contact Alli Darrow at 415-419-3641.
Volunteer to be a Chicken Souper in San Francisco, Marin, or on the Peninsula: