There are more than 450,000 families in Israel living below the poverty line,
and, unfortunately, that number is only growing. Ahead of Passover this year,
many Israeli charities are reporting 20 percent more requests for food
assistance for the holiday from poor families compared to last year. A National
Insurance Institute survey found that 19% of all Israeli families experience
some sort of food insecurity throughout the year.
But Leket Israel, the
national food bank and distribution center of Israel, is working to counter both
food insecurity and the staggering amount of food waste in Western
A few weeks before Passover, on a small farm 45 minutes south of
Tel Aviv, a diverse collection of volunteers are sweating from the labor of
grappling in the fields of a grapefruit farm, one of Leket’s many harvest
The Goldberg family from Woodmere, New York, celebrating the bar
mitzva of their twin boys, and an Israeli school group of 15-yearolds, stand
near four massive crates filled with more than 2,000 pounds of pink
The grapefruits are fresh and a quick taste test confirms
their juicy and ripe interior. But this fresh citrus is not going to the store
to be sold, it’s being distributed to families in need all throughout
Leket, which began operations in 2003, is named for the biblical
precept of leaving behind parts of your field during harvest time for the
“When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very
edges of your field or gather the gleanings (leket) of your harvest” (Leviticus
Leket Israel founder Joseph Gitler, originally from New Jersey,
wanted to take a logistical approach to finding a solution for food waste and
redistribute it to the needy; identifying perfectly good food that for many
reasons would unfortunately be thrown away.
“We exist because of
mistakes, inconsistencies in the marketplace, sell-by dates and because of
consumer expectations,” Gitler said.
According to its annual report, in
2012 Leket Israel was able to distribute 215 metric tons of food each week to an
estimated 140,000 of Israel’s poor. Leket Israel works over many arenas to
identify food waste and works tirelessly with volunteers to rescue and
redistribute to Israel’s needy.
“We had a call from a caterer [that a]
customer had over ordered for an event,” Gitler said. “They were left with 3,000
meals that they had nothing to do with. If we didn’t exist it would have gone
straight into the garbage.”
In addition to working closely with
restaurants, caterers, hotels, food malls and others, an additional initiative,
“Project Leket,” began in order to collect fruits and vegetables from fields
that would otherwise be thrown away.
Winter in Israel is the season for
citrus, but the price of grapefruits has dropped considerably. For a small
farmer with a large crop of grapefruit trees, the cost and logistics of selling
would be more expensive than throwing the grapefruit away.
“Today in the
modern age, farmers have huge amounts that are left over in the field,” Amir
Ahituv, the volunteer coordinator said. “They may not be the right size, color
or something slightly got hurt by weather.”
“The simplest solution for
the farmer today,” Ahituv continued, “is to just leave it in the field to rot
TODAY, THE charity works with more than 300 farmers in Israel to
collect more than 45,000 kg. of fruits and vegetables a week, Ahituv said. The
project has coordinators to meet with the farmers and if the farm has a certain
property that the project can collect from, they send contracted workers to
But in addition to saving crops, Project Leket also
maintains two farms solely for the purpose of distribution to charity. The farms
are maintained by paid workers and a farm manager, but Leket Israel brings in
volunteer groups from military units, companies, schools, families, overseas
groups and anyone else that is willing to lend a hand.
But the pink
grapefruits being picked a few weeks before Passover are a different
The grove is located on a kibbutz adjacent to one of the farms
that works with Leket Israel. The entire crop of grapefruits was bought from the
farmer, and Project Leket has arranged for the volunteers to come and begin
collecting the fruit.
Leket arranges anywhere between four and eight
groups to help pick each day.
On this day, an American family was part of
the team which arrived to help harvest the field.
“We wanted to do
something outside of what we normally do,” said Neil Goldberg, who is in Israel
with his wife and four children celebrating the bar mitzva of his twin boys. He
said that his kids found it inspirational to help people who need food and work
“We get dirty a little bit,” he added.
“I think they
have a fond appreciation for how it gets to the supermarket,” his wife, Leora
The family is working alongside a small Israeli high
school group that also came to volunteer on the farm. The class is in good
spirits and the fruit of their labor, a crate weighing close to 400 kg., is the
result of their hard work.
“Today was good,” said their teacher, Or
Malka. “It was fun to pick grapefruit.”
Leket Israel is now in its 10th
year. In addition to Project Leket and its Meal Rescue program, the organization
also runs a Sandwiches for Kids campaign, distributing sandwiches to at-risk
children in 113 schools in over 35 cities in Israel. It has invested in
nutritional education and training, and has begun a food safety support program
to identify and help fund infrastructure for the proper handling, storage and
safety of food provisions.
An important aspect of Leket is also its
agency relations. In 2012 it conducted an in-depth audit of nonprofits in Israel
in order to better consolidate its reach to the population, food needs and
storage and food handling facilities.
AHEAD OF Passover, Leket has
identified different nonprofits that that work towards creating special packages
for the holiday. Pini Fefer. manager of agency relations, explained that Leket
helps subsidize the food other nonprofits provide for Passover
“The goal is that poor people don’t eat poor food,” Fefer said.
Leket collects fresh produce to distribute to those in need and it identifies
nonprofits that can make special Passover packages and gives money to supply
wine, meat, oil and Seder foods.
In addition to Fefer’s duties, he and
his family joined a Seder at a home for troubled youth in Tel Aviv last
“We support this [home] 52 weeks of the year,” Fefer
“Last year we gave them a voucher to buy food for the Seder, but
its not enough.”
This year however, Leket supplied all of the
accoutrements for a proper Seder for around 50 people, including Fefer and his
“We arranged with another nonprofit for a large tent in the
garden to sit 50 people,” Fefer said. “Usually I sit at home with my family,
parents, our good friends – but this holiday we decided to make it special. We
are going to help them cook and all the best dishes we will make in my home and
bring it to the Seder.”
Back on the farm in Leket’s primary duties, the
volunteers are tired and sweaty. But in front of them sit four large crates with
more than 900 kg. of fresh, nutritional grapefruit.
“When you explain
that you’ve just helped give 1,800 kg. of fresh produce to 1,000 families
in need,” Ahituv said, “that’s what really sticks with them.”