When one door closes, they say, another door opens. And after the pandemic forced hospital doors to close to visitors, the doors of Bedside Kosher’s volunteers were opened wide. What started out as a steady trickle of freshly prepared kosher breakfasts suddenly became a large-scale effort to provide a full meal service to the many isolated and vulnerable Jewish patients in hospitals throughout the UK.
After all, while being stuck in hospital without visitors is hard for anyone, it is particularly hard for Jewish patients. With no breakfasts, snacks or fresh food available on the hospital cultural menu, they often rely on food parcels from visiting relatives to supplement their hospital diets.
Unfortunately, while the NHS were heroically grappling with the challenges of a once in a century health crisis, and should be rightly celebrated for their efforts, the team at Bedside Kosher came to hear many heart-breaking stories of patients going without food and drink during their final days.
“Our timing was perfect,” says Bedside Kosher founder Ari Feferkorn. “We launched just before the pandemic struck, and as the hospitals locked down, we heard of patients going without meals or even hot drinks. We realised we weren’t just filling a gap in the cultural menu, we were literally filling the empty bellies of vulnerable people. People who had no access to the kind of familiar, comforting food they would eat at home. And sometimes, fresh, healthy food is the secret ingredient that puts people back on the road to recovery.
Unfortunately, you can’t get the kind of nutrition on the current NHS cultural menu, which is why Bedside Kosher exists.”
Working with the NHS, not against them.
Despite his criticism of the current cultural menu, Ari is keen to underline his respect for the NHS. “Doctors, nurses and support staff have risen to the biggest peacetime challenge this country has faced in a generation or more. Their work is a reminder of what we can achieve when we pull together. It just so happens that in huge organisations, sometimes the fine details get smudged when creating large-scale plans. The fact that Bedside Kosher has delivered thousands of meals in the last year is proof, for anyone who needs to see it, that the NHS’ cultural food provisions need a rethink. When people need to choose between following their lifelong cultural diets, or eating breakfast, something needs to change.”
In twelve months, Bedside Kosher has gone from delivering a few breakfasts to a local hospital ward, to providing tens of thousands of meals to over fifty hospitals. And while Ari now has the support of hundreds of volunteers to answer phones, cook the food, and deliver the meals, his plans have now become more strategic, and his heart is set on changing the NHS’s approach to cultural food from the inside. With contracts as official suppliers for one hospital trust under his belt, and a place on the Hospital Food Review Committee, it looks like the next twelve months could bring even bigger successes for Bedside Kosher.