By Ukee Washington

CHERRY HILL, N.J. (CBS) — A South Jersey man wanted to make sure children and families who are Jewish are well-served by a federal meals program that fills in the gaps in school meals. On a sunny Tuesday afternoon in the parking lot of Kilmer Elementary School in Cherry Hill, cars are pulling up and boxes are going in.

“This is our South Jersey kosher food distribution,” said Yonaton Yares, who helped make this a reality for the area’s large Jewish community.

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Yares’ first job out of college was in a food pantry. When he heard about a kosher food giveaway for school children in Passaic, he worked his knowledge and contacts with boundless energy.

“The unemployment rate is sky-high still. People are still trying to get somewhere with this. People aren’t used to having their kids home,” Yares said. “I’ve got five kids at home myself. I know the expenses are up. Not everyone can get on food stamps. This is, literally, there are no barriers. If you have kids at home, great. Come, we can help you, we can feed you.”

Federal funding pays for the meals. Each meal box has 14 meals per child, seven breakfasts and seven lunches, with fresh foods and nonperishables. About 30 regular volunteers rotate to help on Tuesday afternoons.

High school student Lila Mahaffy said, “I just hope this will bring them what they need to survive the week. I know that during the pandemic and COVID, it hasn’t been easy.”

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Yares’ project started with about 100 families. Now, more than 300 have signed up. Between this and a second location, they will be giving out more than 500 boxes a week. You don’t have to be Jewish to receive food, and you don’t have to meet any income requirements.

“Don’t worry. We’re here for you, no judgment, just ask for help,” Yares said.

And he is driven by his personal mantra: “What have I done today to make someone’s else’s life better? If you’ve done one thing like that, it’s a good day.”

His next goal is to get a second van for everything they need to transport.

To reach out to Yares, contact him by phone (732-213-1156) or email (yonaton.yares@gmail.com).

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Clarification: After our story aired, organizer Yonaton Yares clarified that families are able to select from whole or reduced milk, but not other foods. Meals are provided based on a state-approved menu. We have adjusted the copy to reflect that information.

Ukee Washington