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(photo credit: Courtesy)
When most people are winding down for the evening and getting ready to crawl into bed, Yonatan Amir is preparing to head out to save tons of leftover food for distribution to thousands of needy families countrywide.
"You have to be a night owl" for this kind of work, admits Amir, 27, a student of Law and Economics at Bar-Ilan University who spent his teenage years in Australia. "I love it, because for me it's convenient. During the day, I'm very busy being a student and working part-time, but at night I have more time, the streets are quieter and the work is almost therapeutic."
For nearly a year, Amir has been volunteering for Table to Table, a food-rescue charity founded by American immigrant Joseph Gitler that gathers leftovers from thousands of catering halls, restaurants, bakeries and hotels countrywide. Volunteers like Amir use their own cars to collect the food and deliver it directly to non-profit organizations, which in turn distribute it the next day to needy families.
"They usually leave their keys in a designated place, we go in and then stock up their fridge," he explains, describing how he spends most nights hanging around shopping malls after closing time waiting for the staff to let him raid leftovers in the kitchen.
According to Table to Table, while many charities are struggling due to the weakening global economy, rising costs of basic staples and faltering donations, Table to Table has managed to collect 5,000,000 kg. of fruits and vegetables, 700,000 hot meals and 500,000-800,000 kg. of dried goods ahead of this holiday alone.
The organization has already handed most of it out to some 200 charities.
While there is no shortage of either recycled food or needy people, what the charity is finding to be a challenge is securing the commitment of volunteers for this kind of work, says Table to Table spokeswoman Almog Gold.
"We can utilize as many volunteers as are willing to work," she says. The problem with the organization's "Night Time Rescue Mission," however, is the late hour.
"There are so many soup kitchens and food distribution centers where volunteers can help out during the day," agrees Amir. "It's hard to get people to come [out] so late to do this kind of work."
"Most of the work takes place after 11 or 11:30 at night," says US-born Benji Aziz, a resident of Efrat who has been volunteering for the organization for several years.
For Aziz, however, the pros of volunteering for such an organization far outweigh the cons. "We are taking massive amounts of leftover food and giving it to people who really, really need it," he says, recalling a recent evening when a Jerusalem bride had instructed her wedding venue to give some 30 portions of food from her party to Table to Table.
"I arrived at the hall even before the wedding had started and the caterer gave me 50 portions to take to a soup kitchen," Aziz remembers with enthusiasm. "Basically, the people at the soup kitchen ate the food before the guests at the wedding did. It was an amazing feeling."
Food distribution charities estimate a 25 percent increase in the number of families or individuals requesting assistance this year. Luckily for them, Table to Table is making sure that as little as possible gets wasted.
For more information or to volunteer, visit www.t2t.org.il http://www.t2t.org.il/ or call (09) 744-1757.
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