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Food Fest requires a veritable village of volunteers

From start to finish, it takes some 200 volunteers to pull off The J’s annual Food Fest. Positions range from preparing and serving food to selling tickets and assisting roughly 2,000 guests in various other areas across the event.

Barry Dreayer has been to every Jewish Food and Culture Fest ever held, racking up lots of time as a volunteer in the process. Although he’s done plenty of serving in the food tent, more often than not he ends up at the ticket table, where his CPA skills can come in handy.

“The Food Fest is a great way to see everybody in the community — not just people from your temple but from the entire community,” states Barry, a member of Temple Beth-El. 

“And the food is delicious.”

Ashley Lewis also helps out. “My husband and I love volunteering at the food fest,” she says. “It’s always so much fun and we get to see friends and family that we may not have seen for a little while. Most importantly, of course, is the amazing food!”

So come for the socializing, stay for the food. But who’s responsible for creating such a mouthwatering menu?

The J needs you

Volunteers determine Food Fest success, and for the past two decades they’ve charted a pretty stellar track record. The event relies on dozens of unpaid helpers to prepare and serve food. They’re also cashiers, and they help in the children’s area and staff the Yom Ha’Atzmaut tent that this year will celebrate Israel’s 75th birthday. 

With an anticipated attendance of around 2,000 of our closest neighbors, we’ll need all the help we can get.

This year’s volunteer effort for the April 30 event kicked off already before the end of February with a crew making kugel (a sweet noodle dish) in The J’s kosher kitchen. But as of this writing, only 37 percent of the 104 food prep volunteer slots have been filled, leaving nearly 70 openings. And of course that’s not counting the more than 75 volunteers needed on the day of the event.

“The food prep shifts range in length from only two to three hours,” explains Community Engagement Director (and organizer extraordinaire) Katie Hausman Grace. “They mostly take place in our kosher kitchen and I think it’s safe to say that just about every volunteer will tell you it’s a great experience. You might even learn a kitchen trick or two.” 

Adding new recipes

This year’s volunteers can choose to help make classic Jewish brisket, pickles, matzah balls, or couscous. New this year are shifts to prepare a new Sephardic-style chicken recipe and mandelbrot, a biscotti-like confection.  

“The shifts are pretty easy,” continues Katie, adding that no experience is necessary. “Just show up and we’ll put you to work on some element of a recipe.” And then after relishing the time spent with your crew, you’ll savor a pretty deep sense of satisfaction for having made such an important contribution to The J — and to the community.

“We need to support all events that include ‘Jewish’ in their names,” says Barry. “It’s so important in this community.”

But the best part? It turns out volunteers can come away from their shifts with something besides pride in a job well done. “I haven’t had to buy a t-shirt in years,” quips Barry.