A Volunteer Talks Turkey

“My own love language is providing food and nurturing people with meals,” JFCS volunteer Elana Cohn-Rozansky said. She has played an outsized role in JFCS’ annual Thanksgiving Food Box program for more than a decade and jumped aboard to help again this year.

“JFCS’ food box program speaks to me on a personal level,” Elana said. “Food insecurity is one of the significant problems out there, in our community and in the world, that I believe we can successfully solve.”

And JFCS’ nearly 200 food boxes filled with Thanksgiving staples and treats, plus a gift card, is one significant step toward a local solution.

Elana wears many hats. A grandmother of two, she teaches 8th-grade Jewish Studies at Portland Jewish Academy, and she is the school’s service learning coordinator. In that capacity, she partners with many organizations – Jewish and non-Jewish – throughout greater Portland, JFCS included.

“The Thanksgiving Food Box program is just one of many support programs JFCS offers, and I want to help make a dent in the workload of this huge endeavor,” she said, adding, “I like to think I have a logistics super-power: I am naturally geared toward logistically complex stuff and simplifying it.”

Elana spearheads organizing food box items from JFCS’ 14 partners, the number of which has increased over the years, and ensures communities provide their assigned non-perishable – canned sweet potatoes, cranberries, stuffing, gravy mix and chicken broth – well prior to the Thanksgiving Food Box program’s bustling packing and delivery day. This year, it occurs on Sunday, November 19, at the Mittleman Jewish Community Center. For more about how you can get involved, click here.

In addition to working with partners like synagogues and other Jewish communal organizations, Elana also involves her middle school students to perform key tasks as the donations pile up at PJA before meal fixings are carted next door to the MJCC on packing day.

Elana has helped streamline the Thanksgiving Food Box program as it’s grown, thanks to “a solid swell of support” from both Jewish groups and those outside the community, such as grocery stores and retailers, she said. Recently, JFCS began including a $25 gift certificate in every box, so recipients can choose family favorites to add to their holiday meal.

“Elana is the engine of the Thanksgiving Food Box train,” said Susan Greenberg, JFCS executive director. “Her role is significant, helping grow the program, thus the number of people fed.”

Elana deflects the compliment: “The key part is providing food to those who otherwise wouldn’t have access to a holiday meal at Thanksgiving.”