Following serious problems with Seder food boxes purchased by about a thousand people, the White City Shabbat organization is offering full refunds for anyone requesting it.
White City Shabbat frequently puts on large community Shabbat dinners for its community of young immigrants, many from the English-speaking community, including over the holidays.
This year, because of the coronavirus pandemic, the organization decided to provide Passover boxes directly to participants for them to use at home, as a way of keeping the community spirit going and helping people for a holiday that is notoriously difficult to prepare for at the best of times.
The Seder in a Box packs were to contain essential supplies for the Seder plate and a full holiday meal complete with salads, sides and “gourmet entrees,” and a beginners English Haggadah, to be delivered by Tuesday at noon, the day before Passover began.
A box cost NIS 180 per person, although discounts were offered to some.
The deliveries, however, were not made on time, with many people not receiving their boxes until early Tuesday evening, and others not getting them until late on Wednesday just before the holiday began.
And upon receipt of the boxes, many of the participants were extremely angry to find very small portions of what appeared to be basic food for the Seder.
Some even complained that the “honey & rosemary marinated chicken” in their box had actually gone bad, apparently because it had spent too long outside a refrigerator.
Numerous participants took to Facebook to complain about the boxes, noting that the late delivery and small portion size meant they had to rush out to buy food in grocery stores and then prepare it with only a very minimal amount of time before Passover began.
Many also pointed out angrily that the boxes had been very expensive and the contents did not justify the price, especially when bearing in mind that it had to be supplemented or replaced with more food.
One participant, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Jerusalem Post that the portions she and her boyfriend received in their box were “tiny,” saying that the dips consisted of one spoonful each and the chicken was approximately one-quarter of one chicken breast.
And they found that the “food had gone rancid,” and was giving off such bad odors they had to throw it away.
She said she had to rush out to a grocery store and spend another NIS 200 on food to cook for the holiday after receiving the box at 6:30 Tuesday evening.
“When I remember Pesach 2020 this is what I will remember. When we sat down to eat at our Passover table we didn’t want to let these events ruin our Passover, but we felt very low,” she said.
Jay Shultz, one of the White City cofounders, told the Post on Sunday that full refunds were now being offered for anyone requesting one through an online feedback form White City Shabbat sent to the participants.
He said the caterer had experienced difficulties sourcing and preparing the food, due to problems caused by the coronavirus pandemic and the restrictions on movement in place, including having to prepare the food in her home kitchen by herself since she was not able to bring in the staff needed.
Schultz said deliveries were delayed in part by various checkpoints set up around the country to ensure compliance with the government’s restrictions on movement, which became extremely tight on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Ultimately, Schultz said White City Shabbat only became aware of the problems with delivery and the content of the boxes as events unfolded and more people began calling and messaging them about not having received the packages and the small-sized portions.
“We wish the caterer would have told us about these problems even a day in advance,” he said.
Shultz also stressed that White City Shabbat is a nonprofit organization and “priced the boxes at cost as we do for all of our other events and initiatives.”
“We completely understand people’s anger and frustration, they didn’t have enough information when they wanted,” he said.
He added that according to the feedback, White City Shabbat has received thus far he believed it would only be necessary to refund 10% of participants, the majority of whom he said appeared to be satisfied with just a 50% refund.
In an email to participants following the first day of Passover, White City Shabbat said it had “nothing to be ashamed of here, and are happy for the public to know that after a decade of volunteering bringing Shabbat meals to tens of thousands of young olim [new immigrants], we got blindsided by our supplier, and will continue volunteering to make it right, while we start working on the next big White City Shabbat initiative ASAP.”
The email offered a 50% refund, but Schultz told the Post that he would not argue with anyone seeking a full refund.
The caterer rejected some of Schultz’s comments however, stating that she was in constant contact with White City Shabbat up until the beginning of Passover and that the organization “knew of all the challenges we were facing, adding, “they approved the original menu, the modified menu and the delivery schedule.”
Shultz insisted however that White City Shabbat had not been in anyway informed of the late deliveries to the distribution points nor of the small sizes of the portions.
The caterer also noted that certain staple items – such as eggs – and other ingredients had been in short supply, making preparation of the food harder.
She added that approximately 50 people in the Gush Dan and Jerusalem areas contacted her directly before the holiday regarding different problems with their packages, “including some who received smaller portions than they should have.”
The caterer said she either provided them with extra food or sent an additional package, adding that there were “three very vocal clients who were not interested in having their packages supplemented or replaced” and instead demanded refunds.
In addition, 70 meals had been left out overnight since White City volunteers carrying out the deliveries had been delayed and were replaced by the caterer “at our own expense,” the caterer said.
“We successfully prepared packages for almost a thousand people under the most difficult and trying conditions: quarantines, unavailable stock on certain basics – not just eggs, supply-chain delays and blockades. My family voluntarily self-isolated for a month to make sure that I would be healthy and able to complete this job,” she said.
“Of course there were problems, and many other caterers faced the same exact challenges. Everybody who informed me of an issue before the holiday was addressed and resolved by me personally as much as possible.” she added.