Last year, Lisa Blitt of Westfield took her then four-year-old son Brennan to Supermarket Sweep, the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey’s annual “food-raiser” to benefit the Jewish Family Service Kosher Food Pantry in Elizabeth.
And, according to Blitt, a member of the federation’s social action committee, he had so much fun helping stock the pantry shelves that it gave her an idea for a new way to promote this year’s event, which will take place Sunday, March 18, at the ShopRite on Central Avenue in Clark.
“Supermarket Sweep is a community-wide mitzva project, so why not involve the youngest members and their families,” she told NJJN. She brought her idea to Robin Brous, associate director of the JCC of Central New Jersey in Scotch Plains, who is also director of early childhood services.
And so, on March 6-9, the Early Childhood wing of the JCC was transformed — with a nod to the holiday of Purim, taking place during those days — into the Shushan Marketplace by Brous and early childhood program coordinator Robin Wander.
Parents were asked to give their children food items to bring in from home. The youngsters sorted and arranged the products on shelves that they had decorated and then went “shopping,” loading up their carts and “checking out” their purchases.
Brous told NJJN the project was successful on many levels. “In educational terms, the children were engaged in dramatic play — shopping — which fosters language, social skills, and emotional growth. In addition, they also honed their math skills by sorting and arranging.
“We were also able to combine the project with our Purim celebration, by emphasizing matanot la’evyonim, the mitzva of giving to the needy,” she said.
During the 2011 Supermarket Sweep, community members purchased more than $6,000 worth of food, which fed needy individuals and families for more than three months. The pantry run by JFS, a partner agency of Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey, serves an average of 250 people per month, with over 900 individuals served this past year. All recipients have demonstrated financial need; they come from a wide range of backgrounds and religions.
“Due to a decrease in government funding, the food pantry needs even more donations from the community at large,” event cochair Elyse Deutsch told NJJN. “And Supermarket Sweep is a fun way to accomplish this.”
Participants, either individuals or groups, register as a team. Teams compete to purchase the most food for the least money by using coupons and circulars. Requested kosher foods include canned tuna, vegetables, soup, baked beans, dry milk, pasta, rice, instant potatoes, ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise. To be eligible for a prize, teams must purchase at least 10 different foods from the requested foods list. Shopping takes place from 2 to 4 p.m. at ShopRite. At 4:30, participants meet at JFS in Elizabeth to stock the shelves and to celebrate with pizza and prizes.
All the food collected through the Shushan Marketplace will go directly into the total for this year’s Supermarket Sweep, cochair Janice Weinberger told NJJN, as she watched the children fill their carts. “It’s so gratifying to see the youngest members of our community participate. Clearly, we are off and running to an exciting Supermarket Sweep 2012.”