Amid soaring food prices, the Family Store is an oasis providing groceries at or below costs for those in need in the Jewish community.
Back in December 2008, Rabbi Yossi Kessler created The Family Store located on Courtrai avenue in Côte-des-Neiges. Kessler had the intent of helping lower-class Jewish residents obtain grocery items at a subsidized cost.
What started as a small pantry has grown into a well-oiled machine with volunteers bustling at 11 a.m. on Sunday afternoons.
TFS brings together volunteers from different cultural backgrounds. Volunteers can help on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Wednesdays from 5 to 9 p.m.
“One must qualify to be a member here. They must make below a certain income threshold or have a certain number of kids. What we sell here is all either at cost or slightly below. We are not giving it away for free,” said Joel Rashkovsky, a volunteer at TFS for almost nine years.
Volunteers flood the warehouse on Sundays and Wednesdays. They do various tasks such as placing labels on cardboard boxes and they grab carts to fill orders for customers.
Customers can place their orders online using the “digital pantry” including over 1,300 stock codes for each food item offered. Once the order is placed, the grocery items are listed the same way they are presented in the store, making the packing process more efficient.
On those two days, volunteers filled up their carts with an assortment of kosher groceries like matzo farfel, beef franks, and Gefen grape juice. In the back, the noise from the rumbling fridge full of two types of kosher chicken made its presence known.
As soon as the volunteers have finished shopping for the order, they pack the items in reusable cardboard boxes and a text message is sent saying “come pick up your order.” Their system is quick, efficient, and improves every year.
According to The Family Store’s website, last month, they had one of their biggest fundraisers ever. While the initial goal was $872,000 on Thursday Dec. 15, 2022, it was announced that they surpassed it and raised $913,172.
As volunteering becomes an even more vital part in education, many high schools such as Bialik High School have made volunteering a requirement.
“I’m doing a mitzvah [a good deed] while having a great time,” said Hailey Murad, a grade 9 student at Bialik High School.
“When I first started, I didn’t realize how many people in our community need basics like food. This experience has taught me to be grateful for what I have and thoughtful for those in need.”
“Volunteering with cousins and friends makes it even more enjoyable,” said Charlotte Stermer, another grade 9 student at Bialik.
“On Sundays we have a lot of high school students who come and want to get their hours done,” said Michelle Moryoussef, another volunteer at The Family Store. Many student groups from universities like McGill help as well.
Founder of TFS Rabbi Kessler exclaimed that over the past two years with COVID and inflation, “the prices were unbelievably high and far from what people could afford. These people are working very hard to make a living, and we decided that we had to do something to help these people,” he added.