(photo credit: PR)
When the children go running into school to kick off the new year this week, the Nevet program will be there to provide 8,000 of the neediest with sandwiches.
The program, which was recently spun out of NGO Leket into a free-standing entity of its own, is now in its tenth year, but the people that built it are unsatisfied. Sure, they’ll get to 9,000 daily sandwiches to feed hungry kids by the end of the year, but there is a waiting list of 20,000.
Gidi Kroch, the CEO of Leket Israel, says the program should be adopted and funded by the government, but so far, there has been little response.
“How long can you have a non-profit running this program?” Kroch wondered in a conversation with The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.
The donor-funded program has fewer than three full-time staff, he said, but could expand its reach dramatically if it had more money even with those bare bones, he said.
The reason is that much of the work happens outside the offices, within the schools themselves.
Nevet organizes the ingredients (whole wheat rolls, cream cheese, yellow cheese, tuna, hummus, tahini, olives, pickles), as well as napkins and plastic bags, and delivers them to participating schools.
The schools, which request a certain number of sandwiches, are responsible for assembling them and getting them to the students.
But unlike afternoon school lunch programs, which aim to get kids through the day, the sandwich program targets kids who may not be eating well at home.
“They for sure haven’t eaten this morning, and it’s possible they haven’t eaten since the previous night,” said Kroch.
That basic level of hunger, he said, can be disruptive to a child’s ability to focus, and lead to poor classroom behavior and acting out.
“What happens to a hungry kid? We’ve all had that feeling, we get restless, we can’t concentrate.
So imagine you’re a ten-year-old kid,” he said.
Though they haven’t done a definitive study on the program (they never even collect the children’s names), Kroch says that the school feedback has been off the charts.
“Violence has gone down, attendance has gone up because of just a sandwich,” he said.
“Let’s give them a chance to leave the vicious poverty cycle.”
With that in mind, he wrote a letter to the Education Ministry to see if the government would adopt the program, providing state funds to broaden its reach.
“I think the government should be leading this and at least have a substantial stake in it, because it’s essentially an education program,” Kroch said.
Despite winning meetings with Education Minister Naftali Bennett, Kroch said the last he heard was from ministerial aides raising concerns about the program costs. Kroch is still hoping to get their attention in order to expand the program this year.
The Education Ministry did not respond to a request for comment.