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A box of food is loaded to be given away as part of Temple Beth Hillel's "Food for Thought" program in Richmond, Calif. on Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2013. The program provides food baskets to 80 families from five elementary schools in the West Contra Costa Unified School District. (Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group)

RICHMOND -- A half-dozen men and women ambled about, packing cardboard boxes with 20 pounds of fresh produce and canned goods, a colorful banner reading "Shalom," or peace, hung high on the temple wall.

"The ability to help people meet their basic needs at a critical time is an adrenaline rush like you can't believe," said Michael Nye, a white-haired volunteer.

"It does something to your heart."

For the past three years, Temple Beth Hillel, the only synagogue in West Contra Costa County, has amassed boxes of donated foods to distribute to area elementary schools to help children and families whose food subsidies are on hold during the school break. The program, dubbed "Food for Thought," is the brainchild of synagogue member Jeff Romm, who along with the congregation's Social Action Committee decided that food security and education should be one of Temple Beth Hillel's core missions.

"The principals we talked with at area schools said that period of the holidays, when kids are out of school and not getting food subsidies, was a serious gap in our community," Romm said.

Romm said more than 90 percent of children at the target schools come from families who qualify for food assistance.

Thanks to donors and partners -- a group that includes the Greater Richmond Interfaith Program, Costco, Berkeley Bowl and Food Maxx -- Temple Beth Hillel will deliver more than 30 pounds of food -- including a hefty turkey -- to 80 families at five area elementary schools. The schools are Montalvin, Grant, Downer, Ford and Lake.

The food baskets were assembled at Temple Beth Hillel for three days beginning Sunday, and will delivered through¿ Friday, Nye said.

Temple Beth Hillel has more than 100 families in its congregation at the Hilltop area location, where it has been since the 1960s.

One of the volunteers, local attorney Joshua Genser, said he devotes his time to the tradition every year because it's an opportunity to embody his faith.

"Do good deeds," Genser said, cradling a food box. "It's core to who we are."

Contact Robert Rogers at 510-262-2726 or rrogers@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/SFBaynewsrogers.