Avodah – the Jewish Service Corps provides Jewish leaders with the tools, experience, and networks they need to create change. At Food & Friends, we have a proud partnership with Avodah that first began more than twenty years ago. Our Avodah corps member for 2021-2022 was Elliana Bogost, a Wisconsin native with a passion for working with vulnerable populations, health equity, and racial justice. Avodah is building a new generation of Jewish leaders to work on our country’s most pressing social and economic issues, so Food & Friends was a natural fit as a provider of medically tailored meals, groceries, and nutrition therapy.
As part of her position, Elliana carried out one of the most important tasks at Food & Friends: the first-day delivery. She would travel to the homes of our neighbors with serious illnesses to deliver their first medically tailored meals and/or grocery packages and help them get acclimated to our service. The role requires a conscientious approach, compassion, and great people skills.
She dutifully carried out her year of service at the height of the spread of the Omicron variant. While many of the peers in her age group — sometimes referred to as “Zoomers” – were beginning 100% remote jobs, Elliana was in the community applying leadership skills as an ambassador for Food & Friends, and gaining valuable first-hand experience with a direct service nonprofit. We sat down with Elliana at the close of her year of service to learn more about Avodah, ask for her reflections on her time at Food & Friends, and talk about what is on the horizon for her as she pursues work in education policy.
How did you get involved with Avodah?
Avodah is a Jewish Service Corps year, it’s a year of service that happens in many different cities across the U.S. I got involved in it because I was looking for something after college that would give me a good transition into the working world. I heard about Avodah through a family member. You work at organizations for a year, and you live in community with other people and you all work at nonprofits and share that experience. You are provided with a stipend, and housing, and you get to experience the city, the working world, and what it’s like to work in a nonprofit organization. I started off living with 15 people, we shared groceries and lived in 2 houses that are right next to each other in D.C.
Avodah has been around since the 90s, and its core purpose is to inspire and motivate Jewish leaders and individuals that are passionate about social justice and change and give them a real insight into the work.
How were you assigned to Food & Friends?
I first interviewed with Avodah. Once I was accepted, I was able to review the different organizations Avodah worked with. I sent out my resumes, interviewed with several organizations, and then ranked the organizations and positions I was interested in. I had two job offers but I ended up with Food & Friends, and what attracted me the most to the job was my supervisor Phyllis Givens, MPH, Client Services Director. I enjoyed working with her. I loved how passionate and motivated she was about the mission of Food & Friends.
I was so excited to work here, it was very exciting to get the call. Our Director called and said, “Food & Friends accepted you and they would like to work with you.” I was so happy to know that Food & Friends was on the horizon for me.
Tell us about your experience working here over the last 11 months.
I experienced a lot of growth; it was a big learning experience. You learn patience, which I feel fits with any line of work, and you learn how to be a good communicator and listener. The best way to be a good communicator is by listening to others. That’s how you learn how to truly help them and provide the service that best suits them. I learned a lot about communication, patience, and acceptance. There are times when you just have to do the work that is right in front of you, and not worry about the other things, because sometimes in this line of work you kind of just have to focus on the most urgent tasks.
It is all about the neighbors with serious illnesses that Food & Friends serves. Some people are so strong, and I learned about how much being sick can change a person; not only their personality, and physical health, but also mentally and emotionally. A lot of the clients I worked with would tell me about how their life was so much different just 6 months ago because they got so ill so fast. A serious illness changes a person dramatically and I think those of us that are well don’t always realize the extent of that change.
What was a typical workday like for you?
I would go out to deliver meals two or three days a week to new clients. The day before, I would prepare welcome guides for them, and then I would give them a phone call to let them know I was coming. I would tell them that we have the option to go over everything in person when I arrive. I would drive to their houses and talk about our services, go over the forms with them and when I got back to the office, I would call individuals who wanted to do their orientation over the phone. I had a lot of one-on-one, direct service experience.
What was your most impactful experience working with a client?
For a lot of clients, Food and Friends is their last hope. There was one woman a few weeks ago that was very ill — which many of our clients are — who was truly struggling. She was feeling so weak and it’s so sad, but she just started crying and she just thanked me and hugged me, and I’ve never had a client hug me, but she was just very thankful and told me how much it meant to her. She said she didn’t have much help or many people in her life, but the food deliveries were so helpful to have. She opened up so much emotionally. That was a really big moment for me that I will never forget.
Sometimes I would be working with someone who was very ill and there would be a caregiver taking care of them and I would be so happy to be able to help out with that because illnesses are a challenge for the caretakers too. Based on personal experience, I know how important it is to be able to take something off of someone’s shoulders. No matter how small, it is great, because a lot of people in my family have had to take care of sick family members and I understand the stress and anxiety that can cause.
What is next for you after Food & Friends?
I want to continue pursuing a career in the nonprofit industry. I’m currently trying to pursue work in education policy, which is one of my passions. My biggest insight from working at Food & Friends is this: the people are what matters the most. I know it may sound cheesy, but I believe that is truly what is core to this work, and the clients know best. The correct approach is to listen to them first. We know our organization, and we know the rules and the policies, but if something isn’t working, they must have a voice in that. Also, no matter what part of this organization you are working in, a big thing I have learned is that it is important to give yourself grace. It’s okay if you don’t do something right away or get it exactly right, I think that’s a really big thing for anyone of my age in the working world, just give yourself a minute, because it’s okay to take a second.
Thank you to Avodah, and Elliana for a year of excellent work, community impact, and these important insights about our mission. Elliana served at Food & Friends during a period of unprecedented growth. At the time of this writing, demand for medically tailored meals and groceries has increased by 26% over the past six months.
Having Elliana on our team and Avodah by our side made it possible for us to not only meet the demand – -but do so with the deep care and compassion our Client Services program is known for.