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NGO's unsurprised by recent child poverty figures
By DANIELLE ZIRI
12/20/2012
Organization head says "the kids suffer tragically and they didn’t do anything wrong. Neither did their parents."
 
Following the State of the Child report released on Tuesday by the National Council for the Child, which revealed an increase in the percentage of Israeli children living under the poverty line, local NGOs combating this issue say they are not surprised.

This week revealed a variety of alarming facts concerning children in Israel. Prior to Tuesday’s report, the organization Latet also published data showing that half of the minors from needy families currently are forced to work to help support their family. Ten percent of these children have also begged for money in the streets in 2012, and 27 percent of Israeli minors have gone entire days without food in the past year.

“These figures are surprising for the public, but not for us,” Menashe Cohen, director of the NGO Hom, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.

“We know these are very disturbing numbers, but we deal with this every single day.”

Founded in 2004, Hom works mainly to combat child hunger with large, nationwide distributions of food, but also provides kids with clothing, toys and other basic needs.

Cohen, who grew up in poverty himself and has witnessed the phenomenon as an educator, explained that the financial difficulties of some Israeli families take a grave toll on the children, who do not have things like bread or milk at home.

“The are hungry,” he said, “and they don’t even tell their friends that after school they go to work with that hunger so they can make money and financially contribute to their family, because they feel ashamed.”

Cohen added that some search for empty cans and bottles in the streets to sell for recycling so they can buy medicine.

“Their distress is huge,” he said. “If we can bring some light to their lives and ensure that they get at least the chance to have a Shabbat meal at home, we are going to do everything we can.”

Yossi Kaufman of Yad Eliezer, which engages in similar activities via donations from around the world, said he does not recall a year where child poverty numbers decreased in Israel.

“The requests for help that we receive from families only increase, but even with that, when you hear their individual personal stories it’s unbelievable.

You just can’t ease to that, ever,” Kaufman said.

“I can’t imagine what it’s like to be a parent and have to tell your child that there is no food tonight,” he added. “The kids suffer tragically and they didn’t do anything wrong. Neither did their parents.”

He recalled that just this week he was touched by a man who had come into the offices of Yad Eliezer to ask for a winter coat for his child.

Kaufman explained that his organization provides for tens of thousands of individuals by providing food packages, baby formula, clothing and even entertainment for children and their families.

“We are doing whatever we can with whatever we have,” he said. “The reality is that people are tremendously and desperately in need.”

The recent figures have brought about many reactions in the past few days. On Tuesday, as the State of the Child report was presented to him, President Shimon Peres called for immediate action on the subject.

“Children can be a burden or a blessing, depending on what is invested in them,” he said.

Greer Fay Cashman contributed to this report.
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