For seven years Paula Caplan has served once a week at the Jewish Family and Community Services’ Max Block Food Pantry. Although she wishes she were out of a job because the people she feeds were no longer hungry and had need of the food pantry, obviously that will never be the case, she said, adding she has no plans to relinquish her volunteer service any time in the future.
“By working here I’ve learned it’s a shame people have to come here for food, but there are plenty of people who need help, that’s for sure. I keep threatening I want a raise,” she joked.
Caplan, who is Jewish, learned of the Max Block Food Pantry through volunteer work at River Garden Hebrew Home, a nursing facility, and the extended Jewish community. As a volunteer, she checks in clients by reviewing their identification, finding out how many people are in their family, and helping them to fill out a form. As a retiree, she said she enjoys the work because it helps her keep busy and makes her feel good.
“It’s good to be busy when you are retired,” she said. “It’s very important to give back, especially when you’re retired. People come in, and they are severely down on their luck at the time and need food. Of course, I ask them how many are in the family, how many children – that’s what it’s all about, helping the community.”
Although Jewish Family and Community Services is heavily funded by Jacksonville’s Jewish community, the Max Block Food Pantry is open to everyone and 98 percent of its clients are not Jewish, she said.
“We serve everyone, regardless of religion,” Caplan said, noting that on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter, more than 75 or 80 hungry clients might come through the doors. “The holidays always bring out more people, especially if they are having company,” she said.
This summer Caplan said she’s noticed a slight dip in the number of clients coming to the food pantry. “I’m not saying it’s seasonal because people have to eat every day,” she said. “It just seems like this particular summer it hasn’t been as busy as it was last fall and winter. It seems like things are improving, and some of us are surprised when the days are slow.”
To meet the anticipated increase in food needs during the summer – due to children being out of school – JFCS challenges donors to the Max Block Food Pantry Match Challenge, where the Block Family Foundation matches all contributions to the Max Block Food Pantry up to $10,000, said JFCS spokesman Ryan Allison.
“As part of JFCS’s ongoing capital campaign, The Max Block Food Pantry is being remodeled to provide a better shopping experience for our clients. It will remain open throughout construction during the fall and winter of 2017,” he said.