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Shriners Children’s Philadelphia Opens Kosher Pantry for Jewish Patients and Families

Hospital stays are difficult enough for children and their families: all of the appointments, long waits and tiring days are enough to overwhelm anyone. Now imagine adding weekly dietary restrictions to all of that, along with only being able to use specific microwaves, fridges and other kitchen equipment.

For Jewish patients who are Sabbath observant, it can be a struggle to keep up with their weekly observances in unfamiliar locations. That’s why Shriners Children’s Philadelphia wanted to open a Kosher Pantry, a place that helps families and patients of Jewish faith not have to worry about where they will find food in the hospital.

“The goal is that we provide what patients who keep kosher or are Sabbath observant need to feel comfortable,” says Dubbie Ungar, a volunteer for Bikkur Cholim of Philadelphia. They are a volunteer organization that provides accommodations, kosher meals and pantries, hospital visitation and other services to Jewish families staying at hospitals in the Philadelphia area.

The connection to Bikkur Cholim was made through care managers at the hospital and families asking about whether accommodations could be made. The two organizations began working together to convert a room on the 8th floor to a Kosher Pantry, equipped with kosher meals, snacks, separate microwaves, timed kettles and refrigerators, and anything else Jewish families may need during the Sabbath or other Jewish holidays.

“Some families prefer packaged things and some prefer to bring their own food, but either way, they have a place in the hospital to feel comfortable,” says Dubbie. Most Sabbath observant families don’t cook or directly use electric items on the Sabbath, so there is a hot plate that is turned on before the day commences to be able to heat up food. They have separate microwaves, one for meat and one for dairy.

Inside the Kosher pantry

Dubbie Ungar, a volunteer for Bikkur Cholim of Philadelphia, poses in the new kosher pantry on the 8th floor at Shriners Children's Philadelphia.

“It’s wonderful because we can help inpatients that stay for multiple weeks, so it’s an oasis for them, especially during Jewish holidays and Sabbaths,” explains Dubbie.

“When someone’s child is undergoing an operation, it brings an overwhelming amount of angst and stress,” says Shannon Cowart, RN and care manager. “At Shriners Children’s, we try to make patients and families as comfortable as possible. The addition of the Kosher Pantry has been a tremendous resource in accommodating our Jewish families and providing a level of comfort during their stay with us. Without Bikkur Cholim and the continued support from our administration, this would not have been possible.”

The hospital renovated the room and gave it a fresh coat of paint, and donors supplied most of the equipment. Bikkur Cholim volunteers deliver fresh shipments of food and other items on a weekly basis. All of their services and food are provided free-of-charge, so it was a good match for Shriners Children’s mission, which provides care regardless of the families’ ability to pay or insurance status.

“It is amazing, and the families are very thankful! This is one more way we aim to provide wraparound care to patients and their families,” says Scott Kozin, M.D., chief of staff at Shriners Children’s Philadelphia.

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