Hundreds of thousands of hot meals served each year, five thousand shopping cards distributed annually, ninety after-school programs offered throughout Israel – Meir Panim, Israel's largest assistance network for the needy, puts up impressive numbers. Yet while the statistics are remarkable, the meaning behind Meir Panim’s mission is perhaps even more noteworthy. “Our core mission is about serving, and meeting community needs and serving our clients with a level of dignity,” explains Mimi Rozmaryn, director of global development for Meir Panim. “We want to go one step above giving — we want to give with dignity and respect, and we want our clients to not to feel needy, but like members of our family.”
The food and social service programs provided by Meir Panim help to alleviate the harmful effects of poverty in the short term, while also delivering long-term, proactive solutions to assist needy Israelis to break out of the cycle of poverty and become active, self-sufficient members of society.
Meir Panim’s special style is exemplified by its ‘restaurant-style’ soup kitchens, where patrons are treated like customers in a restaurant. When they arrive, they sit down, and a volunteer or staff person immediately brings them a tray of food. When they have finished, a volunteer appears and clears their tray.
Meir Panim operates five centers throughout the country – in Tzfat, Tiberias, Jerusalem, Dimona, and Sderot, Or Akiva, and soon, Kiryat Gat – and their mission extends beyond food. In Dimona, they offer a day care program for Holocaust survivors with social activities that provide a sense of community and purpose. In or Akiva, Meir Panim operates after-school programs, summer camps, a meals-on-wheels program and runs a ‘Produce for Pickup’ program weekly, where community members can quickly get a bag of fruits and vegetables and be on their way. In Sderot, it operates three teen centers in bomb shelters that are open from 6-10 pm, which allows young adults to have a safe place to meet and, as Rozmaryn says, “get therapy in ways that they don't realize is really therapy.”
Rozmaryn explains that “in each of our different centers, we work with local municipalities to identify the needs, and we set up shop to help the local communities, and assist where we are most needed.”
Purim is a special time at Meir Panim
. “We feel especially compelled to help out around the holidays so that our clients can have the dignity and excitement for the holiday, like everyone else,” says Rozmaryn. “The most difficult and most socially isolating time for the needy is around the holidays. We try to go the extra mile to help them during the holidays.” This Purim, Meir Panim will offer a Purim Seudah (festive holiday meal) at each of its centers and has offered a wide variety of programming in different centers, prior to the holiday, including Hamantashen baking, assembling and delivering Mishloach Manot (Purim food packages), and Purim costume contests. In keeping with Meir Panim’s warm approach, visitors to its center who arrive on Purim will receive two packages of Mishloach Manot – one for them, and one to give to someone else. Rozmaryn explains that “we want our clients to feel like they can be a part of every element of the holiday, which even means giving to someone else.”
Meir Panim greatly values the help provided by volunteers, whether they live in Israel, or are just visiting and want to stop in. One group that has been especially helpful to Meir Panim, says Rozmaryn, is Mothers with Meaning, a community of mothers in Israel building spirituality and community, helping others, and trying to make Israel a better place.
Rozmaryn explains that Mothers with Meaning has ‘adopted’ the Dimona branch of Meir Panim through a number of different initiatives. In January, the group held a costume sale for members of the Dimona community, offering Purim costumes for 5 NIS. Last week, Mothers with Meaning prepared and packed 160 Mishloach Manot food packages in Petach Tikvah, which were delivered to Dimona. “We are very appreciative for all that they have done. They came to our centers as a means of exposing the group to what we do, and different ways that Israelis are giving back to support the community. They fell in love with the place and with the staff and with our clients, and they keep coming back and giving back,” explains Rozmaryn.
“We welcome visitors to Israel to come and see the work that we do,” she says. “People who want to learn more about what we do and get an ‘insider’s perspective’ are welcome to take a few hours from their trip to come and learn about us and see our clients, staff, professionals, and volunteers.” For those living in Israel, Meir Panim welcomes English-speaking retirees, or those who are available to help, to come in and enliven and brighten the days of clients and staff.
True to its name, Meir Panim lightens the load, brightens the faces and elicit smiles of those it supports and assists. As Mimi Rozmaryn says, “We want them to feel taken care of, warmed and brightened – not just through their basic needs being met, but being taken care of as part of a family with love and dignity.”
Those interested in more information about volunteering and helping Meir Panim, may contact the organization at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was written in cooperation with Meir Panim