Mazon gives $58,000 to eight Northern Calif. agencies

The Contra Costa County Food and Nutrition Policy Consortium in Pleasant Hill received $5,000 to work on food-security issues. The Greater Richmond Interfaith Program in Richmond got $4,000 for its Souper Center.

Mazon gave $19,000 to San Francisco's California Food Policy Advocates for general support and $5,000 to Stockton's Emergency Food Bank for its Jubilee Farm.

It distributed $71,000 to Southern California agencies dealing with homeless and hungry.

Altogether, Mazon gave $800,000 to 99 Jewish and nonsectarian agencies serving hungry people in the United States and abroad.

During the past decade, the Los Angeles-based agency has supported a network of non-profit programs that provide food for the hungry. Mazon raises the majority of its funds from Jews nationwide who donate a suggested amount of 3 percent of the cost of weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs and other celebrations.

"We take pride in the steadfast and generous support of the Jewish community over the last decade," said Irving Cramer, Mazon's executive director. "That support has enabled Mazon's grantmaking to increase almost a hundredfold, from $20,000 in 1986 to the nearly $2 million we expect to award this year."

While gratified by Mazon's exponential growth, Cramer is troubled by the realities facing the country's anti-hunger community. Mazon-supported food pantries and social-service agencies report increased demand for food and other services; food banks are scrambling to replace food lost to cuts in government commodity programs and declining food industry donations. Not surprisingly, the number of applicants seeking Mazon funding continues to rise.

"This is a particularly challenging time for the anti-hunger organizations Mazon supports," said Cramer.

"With the federal government reassessing its role in helping poor Americans and the likelihood of cutbacks or modifications in critical federal feeding programs, private charities are bracing for tough times."

Converting federal food-assistance programs, such as the Food Stamp program, into state-administered "block grants" at sharply reduced funding could deny needed benefits to millions of poor and hungry Americans, Cramer said warned.

In the wake of federal welfare reform, Cramer also expressed concern about negative stereotyping of welfare recipients, immigrants and minorities. Rabbi Mark Loeb, chair of Mazon's board of directors, pointed out that "Jewish religious tradition compels us to help others. Jews left the corners of their fields for the poor to glean; in the shtetls of Eastern Europe, celebrations could not begin until the community's poor graced the table along with other guests. And the Talmud says 26 times, more than any other reference, `Help the stranger.'"

Mazon, the Hebrew word for "food," was established in 1986 and is now one of the largest privately supported groups in the United States working to prevent and alleviate hunger. Since its founding, Mazon has awarded grants totaling nearly $9.4 million to emergency feeding programs, food banks, advocacy groups for the poor, multiservice organizations offering food, shelter and counseling, and international relief and development projects.

More than 720 synagogues have joined as Mazon partners, establishing a network encompassing the major branches of Judaism. Mazon received 35,000 contributions in 1994.