When Joe and Frieda Franco of Deal host a party, they don’t mess around. Some 2,000 guests descended on the Franco household July 7 for an all-day event intended to raise $100,000 for Lottie’s Kitchen, the Israel-based division of Ezer Mizion that focuses on food distribution to individuals and families in need.
Scores of volunteers and a cadre of 17 valet parking attendants also were on hand to handle the overflow crowd.
This was the 14th annual benefit on behalf of Lottie’s Kitchen, which provides over 80,000 meals, 83,000 sandwiches, and 13,000 cookies and cakes every year for Jerusalem-based families dealing with serious illnesses. Recipients include family members staying with hospitalized patients, families with a sick or disabled parent, victims of terror and their families, and the sick and the homebound.
Ezer Mizion, literally translated as Aid from Zion, is the parent organization for Lottie’s Kitchen. It offers an extensive range of medical and social support services to help Israel’s sick, disabled, elderly, and underprivileged populations. Since its founding in 1979, Ezer Mizion has grown to become one of the largest non-profit organizations in Israel, benefiting over 670,000 people every year. In addition, it maintains what director of development Yaffa Karp calls the “largest Jewish bone marrow donor registry in the world.”
By comparison with Ezer Mizion, Lottie’s Kitchen is a young organization, launched in 2003 when the four Brooklyn-born daughters of Haim and Lottie Chalom wanted to honor their recently deceased parents.
Three of the daughters — Claudia Bilderici, Nina Cohen, and Susan Menashe — live in Deal, and one, Linda Dayan, has been a resident of Israel for close to 40 years.
According to Dayan, her parents were married for over 50 years. “Our father was born in Aleppo, Syria, left home as a teenager, came to America and worked hard most of his life in a retail business. Our mother, who was born in the United States to parents from Aleppo, loved to cook and bake. And she was great at it. Her creativity had no limits.”
Dayan told NJJN via e-mail, “Her favorite thing was doing hesed with food. Anyone who came into the house would get a serving of whatever was cooking. Not only her friends, but any repairman or neighbor.” Actually, they didn’t even have to walk in, according to Dayan. The mailman and the garbage man also got a taste from her kitchen on a regular basis.
“When our mother passed away, we were already familiar with Ezer Mizion. We knew that we wanted to do something within this amazing organization! And we knew it had to be connected to food,” said Dayan.
The kitchen facility being used at that time by the organization was not in good shape, she explained. The daughters determined to raise enough money so that it could be renovated and named Lottie’s Kitchen.
That first summer, said Dayan, “We were able to meet the goal; we had the first Lottie’s Kitchen event in my sister Nina’s lovely home. The new kitchen is beautiful and is built to be very practical for the hundreds of volunteers who work there.”
On the Ezer Mizion website — ezermizion.org/blog/tag/lotties-kitchen/ — Lottie’s Kitchen is described as a “circle of giving.” In numerous stories about real people, the organization is seen as both giver and receiver. One tale traces the experience of an ordinary happy family until their child was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
Contacted by a neighbor, Lottie’s Kitchen volunteers appeared on the scene, providing comfort, compassion, and food. When the youngster died, her mother, working her way through grief, became a volunteer, peeling and slicing in the kitchen and “lovingly” wrapping and delivering meals to others.
All four of Lottie’s daughters played major roles in the annual Lottie’s Kitchen celebration and fund-raiser — the exact amount raised was undetermined at press time. At the Franco home on July 7, Cohen, whose husband Sam is the mayor of Deal, served as a sort of major domo, organizing the event, which included the following elements: a series of cooking demonstrations, a raffle, a bake sale, a Chinese auction, a kitchen boutique featuring hundreds of items, and an area where home recipes could be sampled and purchased.
Menashe, an accomplished photographer, offered portrait sittings for four hours on July 6, and added another two hours on the 7th, from 9 to 11 a.m.
Bilderici and Dayan were visible throughout the day, greeting guests, touting merchandise, assisting at every turn.
Dayan also plays a special role throughout the year. Noting that volunteers are welcome at any time, she explained, “Frequently, Americans on tour in Israel have some free time, and many have expressed interest in helping fulfill the Lottie’s Kitchen mission. My job is to meet with these groups and to assure them that anything they could do for our effort is greatly appreciated. It is exciting and heartwarming to see these visitors using vacation time to chop, slice, and wrap food packages — and they have a lot of fun while doing it.”