Serving holiday food to the lonely elderly...

...with a loving touch

By HANNAH KATSMAN
June 5, 2019 23:14
Passover

Wrapping gifts for holiday meal packages. (photo credit: BENI ASKELONI)

 
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Kruvit, a grassroots project delivering homecooked holiday meals to over 5,000 households, started with a refusal.

“A student asked me to donate NIS 10 for food for a needy family before Shavuot,” recalls Kruvit founder Ravit Halleli Alon.

Originally from Rishon Lezion, Halleli Alon was studying medicine in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem neighborhood.

“I said no but regretted it, so I called to offer to cook holiday meals. The woman jumped at my offer,” she says.

Halleli Alon and her sister ended up bringing lasagna to six families.

“These were families with sick children,” she explains. “One couple had adopted a baby with cancer. They were thrilled to get homemade food for the holiday.”

Their response inspired her to continue. Halleli Alon spread the word, and others promised to help.

“For Rosh Hashana,” she says, “we brought food to 12 families. We put up signs asking people in the neighborhood to cook double [portions] and donate the extra to us.”

With every holiday, the project grew, with the number of recipients climbing into the hundreds. Halleli Alon collected three or four ovens and some institution- sized cookware, shoving the equipment into a corner of her student apartment when not in use. She began holding an open house before Passover, Shavuot and Rosh Hashana. People from surrounding neighborhoods brought larger and larger portions. Flowers and small gifts were also added for a personal touch.

Halleli Alon eventually finished school and moved to Tel Aviv. Three years ago, when the distribution list reached 2,500, she realized it was time to move the operation out of her living room. She brought several truckloads of equipment to the “Omer” scout troop’s headquarters in Holon. Currently, the team does the major part of the cooking and packaging there.

Taking into account the donations of food, transportation and cooking resources, Kruvit still needs about half a million shekels to operate each holiday.

THROUGH KRUVIT – Hebrew for “cauliflower,” a name derived from her childhood nickname and email address – Halleli Alon hopes to reach the kind of family for whom money isn’t the main problem.

“I’m not looking for the ones that could be helped by giving them NIS 500,” she explains. “The idea is to help people who aren’t able to make the holiday themselves.”

Of the 5,400 households currently on the list, about 4,000 are the lonely elderly, including many in their 80s and 90s.

Over the years, Halleli Alon has developed a system for packaging and distribution, taking special care to ensure freshness.

“We make the fish ourselves, and send it out right away. Meat dishes cooked in private homes are sent without delay, while we allow more leeway for side dishes and cakes,” she explains. “For further distances, we use of a refrigerated truck or travel at night.”

The truck owners lend their trucks to the project.

Kruvit has become a fixture in the lives of Halleli Alon and many stalwart volunteers.

A pediatric psychiatrist now in her seventh month of pregnancy, Halleli Alon learned that pregnancy doesn’t interfere, nor does a newborn.

“I kept my firstborn in a sling for nearly 48 hours straight and breastfed him,” she recalls.

This year, she anticipates having time to recover from the birth before the start of Shavuot preparations.

Halleli Alon explains how the program is organized.

“Every recipient gets a box with seven items,” she says. “Usually, that means two meat dishes, two side dishes, fish, dessert and a small gift. Five food items are in separate containers, so that means 22,000 food containers.”

Most of the food preparation takes place during a 48- hour marathon of activity in which the chefs prepare food from 3,000 kg. of meat and 12 tons of fruits and vegetables.

Ramat Gan resident Leor Porat coordinates the distribution, starting over a month before each holiday.

“Right now, I’m finalizing the lists of the people getting packages, collecting donations and recruiting 250 to 300 drivers,” he says.

The packages will arrive in Holon, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Lod, Ofakim and elsewhere.

Porat’s wife started cooking for Kruvit after hearing about it from colleagues at her law firm.

“I called and said I also wanted to volunteer,” he says. “I enjoy seeing the quantity of people involved, just doing good for other people. These people are now my friends.”

The Cohen family of Gimzo, a moshav near Modi’in, has been volunteering for Kruvit for seven years, previously contributing to organizations that distributed dried goods before the holidays.

“I wanted a project that involved the whole family,” says Effie Nevo Cohen, a mother of nine. “With Kruvit, everyone has a job, even the smallest, putting the food into containers. My son has already asked his commander for a day off from the army so he can take a shift supervising the kitchen. Ravit [Halleli Alon] contacts him directly. There is a job for every age and stage.”

Nevo Cohen is responsible for organizing donations from eight neighboring communities, making her own kitchen kosher for Passover long before starting her own holiday cooking. She’s gotten 80 out of 100 families from her moshav involved, running a cooking session parallel to Halleli Alon’s in a different location.

“It’s been hard to find a kitchen that can be kashered in advance of the holiday,” she says.

The food from Nevo Cohen’s neighbors will go to the minority of Kruvit recipients who request strictly kosher food.

WHAT IS it about Kruvit that makes Nevo Cohen and so many others turn their lives upside down three times a year? For Nevo Cohen, it’s the volunteers.

“You see a lot of organizations run by people with lots of money and time,” she says. “A few years ago, when I came to Holon, I saw two women with decrepit shopping carts. They took raw ingredients from the Kruvit headquarters and brought them home to cook. That’s what they are able to do. Others buy the raw ingredients themselves and cook it at home. Still others donate only money. They all have a role in Kruvit.”

Those who deliver the food don’t just drop it off. They help arrange it in the refrigerator and, more important, stay for a while to chat. But Halleli Alon insists that the volunteers benefit the most.

“Whenever I thank them, they all reply in the same way: Thank you for giving me the opportunity.”

To volunteer: Contact Halleli Alon at ravitkruvit@gmail.com To donate: Contact yonishv@gmail.com for details.

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