For nearly four decades, Ronald McDonald House Charities Maryland has provided a home-away-from-home for critically ill children and their families. But until now, Jews who observe kashrut, or kosher dietary laws, were unable to take advantage of the nonprofit’s amenities and services.
That recently changed when RMHC, in partnership with Chai Lifeline, an international children’s health support network, opened a kosher pantry on the second floor of RMHC’s new state-of-the-art facility at 1 Aisquith St. in East Baltimore. The two organizations held a ribbon-cutting ceremony to unveil the pantry on Oct. 3.
The Maryland facility is the first RMHC house in the world to cater to the requirements of kashrut-observant Jews. The kosher pantry offers kosher snacks and baked and perishable items upon request. It is stocked and supervised by Chai Lifeline.
Located a block away from the Lloyd Street Synagogue, the Jewish Museum of Maryland and B’nai Israel Synagogue, the Ronald McDonald House opened last May in the Jonestown neighborhood.
The 60,000-square-foot building, featuring an electric red heart on the rooftop, more than doubled the size of its original house and accommodates nearly 2,200 families every year. More than 40,000 families have stayed at the Ronald McDonald House since its opening in 1982.
The kosher pantry was conceived by Dr. Steven Zinn, a Chai Lifeline board member. About 18 months ago, Tzvi Haber, director of programming of the Mid-Atlantic chapter of Chai Lifeline, brought the idea of a kosher pantry to Sandy Pagnotti, president and CEO of RMHC Maryland.
“Sandy enthusiastically helped me pioneer the idea,” Haber said at the dedication. “Without Sandy and Ronald McDonald House, it would never have been possible.”
Said Pagnotti: “I’m so excited about having Ronald McDonald’s first-ever kosher pantry. Our mission is to serve as many families in crisis as we can. Our hope is that many families who would not have come here because we’re not kosher will now be able to access us as a resource when they’re in a really tough situation. We’re looking forward to this partnership with Chai Lifeline because they’ll be a referral source for us.”
Rabbi Mordechai “Moty” Gobioff, Chai Lifeline’s director of client services, said the creation of the kosher pantry sends out a pair of important messages to the world.
“The first is that the greater Baltimore community is here to support every culture, no matter who you are. That’s an amazing statement of tolerance and diversity,” he said. “The second message is that [observant] families, that in the past would have struggled to come to Baltimore to receive cutting-edge treatment for their child, will now be able to do it and feel so much more comfortable doing it. They may also be able to make a better decision about their child’s health care.
“[RMHC Maryland] has really broken the ice. We’re going to take this model to other communities that can benefit.”
Chai Lifeline social worker Rivky Flamm called the kosher pantry “a tremendous resource. Families now have an excellent option for respite that they didn’t have before.”
Haber thanked the leaders of RMHC Maryland for their “goodwill and partnership. You’ve opened the doors for a whole new demographic to tap into the medical resources in Baltimore. This is a brand new option for Orthodox families where they will be able to rest and enjoy the beautiful amenities [at RMHC Maryland] while their children are treated right next door at Johns Hopkins [Hospital], all while feeling like they’re at home.”
Kosher pantries also operate at Johns Hopkins Hospital, GBMC, the University of Maryland Medical Center, and at Sinai Hospital’s main campus, emergency room and the Seasons Hospice Inpatient Center at Sinai. Those pantries are operated under the coordination of Bikur Cholim of Baltimore, a nonprofit that serves people facing illness and their families in the Jewish community.