When the coronavirus pandemic virus hit, Pearlstone’s business was booming. Sales from its Retreat Center were growing exponentially, as was its in-person experiential learning opportunities that focused on Living Judaism, like immersive holiday celebrations and Family Farm Camp.
Yet in March, things would suddenly change. The hospitality business was hit hard. So was programming. As the community stayed home and practiced social distancing, it was up to the imagination and innovation from Pearlstone’s professionals and volunteers, combined with the support of The Associated, that led to a reenvisioning of the organization’s work.
“We began to think about how we could sustain Pearlstone and be of service to the community until things began to return to normal,” said Jakir Manela, chief executive officer of Pearlstone. “And we asked ourselves, as people yearn for nature and connection, how can we do that with everyone’s health and safety in mind. We knew we had to pivot, adapt and reinvent.”
In keeping with Pearlstone’s core values of Living Judaism, Connectedness, and Loving Warmth, the agency began to rethink its role. Going beyond virtual experiences, which included adding new programs like “Let’s Get Cooking” and “Grow Your Own” (for budding gardeners), Pearlstone began to reimagine.
That led to an organizational commitment to build on the agency’s strengths. As a result, Pearlstone has created dynamic, new strategies for community impact during these difficult times.
“Although the crisis has hit Pearlstone like a tsunami, our ability to adapt, and our partnership with The Associated and its leaders are helping us through this crisis. We are blessed to have our leaders.”Jakir Manela, chief executive officer of Pearlstone
From the organic produce growing on its farm to the talented culinary staff, the kitchen presented an opportunity for Pearlstone to pivot to a new business model. As a result, Pearlstone Kitchen was launched, offering kosher farm-to-table meals for home delivery.
These full-course menus feature a variety of vegetarian and vegan offerings as well as lamb, Peruvian chicken, salmon cakes, Moroccan chickpea stew, roasted carrots with agave, even chocolate chip cookies. Menus are updated each week.
Meals are distributed through contactless door-to-door delivery, In the few weeks since its launch, they are selling out – having sold more than 1,000 meals.
Mitzvah Meals for Healthcare Heroes
In addition, Pearlstone is offering the public the change to purchase and donate meals for healthcare heroes. Through a partnership with LifeBridge Health, community members can donate dinners to area hospitals. Several hundred meals have already been delivered to Sinai Hospital and Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital, as community members show their immense gratitude to all those who are saving lives every day.
This year, as Pearlstone had to cancel its highly successful family camp, an idea germinated between a Pearlstone board member, Jason Rubenstein, and community leader Anna Klein. Pearlstone has several self-sufficient overnight accommodations options (cabins or houses with kitchens included)– why not offer one- to two-week private family getaways at its site?
This summer, as dreams of vacationing at the beach are put on hold, families can turn to Pearlstone. Each week, Pearlstone will accommodate several families on their campus. Families can enjoy Pearlstone Kitchen meals or cook on their own and will have the opportunity to participate in socially distanced programming, including yoga, nature walks, campfires and more.
Emergency Food Response
With many in the community facing food insecurity during this time of need, Pearlstone knew it had an opportunity to contribute to the solution. In the early days of the pandemic, they worked with Baltimore City Schools to provide 2,000 bagged lunches to City children.
Now, they are hoping to bring their expertise to a larger scale. Next month, they plan to launch a new initiative, with the support of The Associated. Working with nonprofit partners, they will provide healthy emergency food offerings to community members. Currently, they are scaling up to provide 1,000 of these meals each week.
Pearlstone’s amazing team of talented Jewish outdoor experiential educators would not normally focus on education using Zoom, YouTube and Facebook. But given the complete shutdown of their normal immersive onsite experiences, the team pivoted quickly and effectively to virtual programming, producing over 60 interactive Jewish environmental educational videos featuring content on home gardening, cooking demonstrations, family craft projects, outdoor wilderness skills, earth-based Torah study, singalongs, and more!
Thousands of participants are engaged with these programs, and Pearlstone has been asked to advise other Jewish and environmental educators both locally and around the country, setting the standard for excellence in virtual programming in their industry