Imagine in your worst dreams surviving the Holocaust and then in old age not having enough to eat.
That is what’s happening to 140 Jewish senior citizens around the borough whose kosher Meals on Wheels program is in danger of shutting down because of lack of funds.
Known as Project Chaim, which means life, it is sponsored by the Queens Jewish Community Council in Forest Hills. Cynthia Zalisky, QJCC executive director, said the three-year-old program is not just geared to seniors who survived the Holocaust, although they do make up a sizeable number.
“Many of these people have no relatives and never had children of their own,” Zalisky said. “They are frail and old and need our help.”
The program costs $95,000 a year and was previously provided by a philanthropist “and now the funding streams have changed also,” Zalisky noted. “It’s a very expensive proposition for us but we want to keep doing it.”
She noted that discretionary funding from elected officials “is up in the air,” but that her group is going to them for help.
The city’s Department for the Aging has a waiting list for such programs, Zalisky added, noting that the agency asked her group to sponsor it originally.
“We did a survey and found the average age of participants is 91 and there is a mobility issue. Most live alone,” the director said.
She called the seniors “very vulnerable” and said delivering the food also provides interaction with them. “Sometimes we’re the only one they see from the outside world.”
A substantial frozen entree meal with a roll is delivered four days a week.
Zalisky added that her group “had a moral decision” to continue the program “and we couldn’t refuse to help them.” A pre-Purim concert fundraiser, sponsored by the National Council of Young Israel, in conjunction with the QJCC, was held at Queens College last Sunday and raised enough money to keep the program going through May.
The QJCC holds a fundraising gala in the summer and has sent out mail solicitations for Passover, asking everyone to help save the program.
Officials at CenterLight Health System, formerly Beth Abraham Family of Health Services, said they are committed to improving the quality of life for all New Yorkers in need. On hearing that Project Chaim’s vital work was threatened by lack of funds, Michael Fassler, CEO of CenterLight, took the initiative recently and donated $5,000. Margaret Tietz Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, in Jamaica, a member of CenterLight, served as the backdrop for the presentation.
“Project Chaim was established in 2011 by the QJCC to fulfill our community’s moral obligation to these seniors who sacrificed so much to keep kosher, but who now in their twilight years are impoverished, living hand to mouth and are cared for by non-Jewish home attendants,” CenterLight officials said.
Zalisky knows the seniors depend on the program. “They have been forgotten and have lived longer than most,” she said. “They are under the radar.”
Persons interested in donating to Project Chaim can send checks to the QJCC at 119-45 Union Turnpike, Forest Hills, NY 11375 or go to QJCC.org.