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Leff Helps Food Pantry Make A Difference In Community

December 15, 2009 by Josh Morgan

Generosity has been a part of Zachary Leff’s young life for many years.
While most teenagers spend their free time playing video games or trolling the Internet, Leff has spent many hours volunteering at a food pantry on Whalley Avenue in New Haven. In seventh grade, Leff had gone to the food pantry, sponsored by the Jewish Family Service, with his temple in Cheshire. After that community service project came to an end, most of his friends went on to other endeavors, but Leff kept going back to lend a helping hand.
“I wanted to be there as a much as possible,” Leff said. “I’m only 15, so I haven’t experienced the problems I see down there. I’m lucky in that way, so I want to help out.”
Over many summers, Leff would spend time at the pantry bagging food or stocking the shelves and, this year, he became a full-fledged volunteer, spending even more time there. Recently, Leff pursued some grant funding to help purchase new bags in which people could carry their food home. Leff noticed that, in the rain, paper bags were ripping and could be a burden for someone walking home or taking the bus. Plastic bags were an option, but not environmentally friendly, so Leff applied for, and received, a $300 award from the The Falk Foundation for Excellence, which he used to purchase cloth bags for the food pantry.
“They won’t rip and are sturdier for the walk or ride home,” Leff explained. “And we can reuse these bags.”
The goal is for the bags to be reused by the people who utilize the food pantry and, also, will cut costs, since Jewish Family Service will not have to buy plastic or paper bags again. Sandra Hagan, the director of the food pantry, is confident that families will bring the bags back when they return in a few weeks. As an incentive to bring them back, clients may also select health and beauty aids, in addition to their food, at their next visit.”
“He’s a joy to work with,” Hagan said. “He assists with treks to East Haven to pick up 2,000 pounds of food from that central warehouse and is the only teenage volunteer who has been authorized to do administrative work, such as client appointments at the pantry.”
A few years ago, around the time of Leff’s bar mitzvah, the shelves at the pantry were sagging due the weight of all the canned goods and other non-perishable items. He used some of his bar mitzvah money, and collected other funds at Temple Beth David, to purchase new shelves that were stronger and rearranged the layout of the pantry to make it easier for patrons to see the food selection and special items, like kosher food.
Leff’s volunteerism also spread to his entire family, as his mother, Linda Leff, explained that everyone has become “much more involved” as a result of her son’s efforts.
“The whole family is getting involved because of Zach,” his mother said. “He is just an extraordinary kid.”
Leff wants to work at the food pantry again this summer and put forward a long-term commitment with Jewish Family Service. He said that, if he were lucky enough to eventually attend college locally, he would continue to volunteer in New Haven.
“Everyone has a reason to use the food pantry, and I don’t know how some of them survive. It’s important to help them,” Leff said. “It’s a real good feeling to help someone out.”

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