Fighting the numbers

With a limited budget, Yesh Lecha Chaver continues to help families in need

Charity in car 521 (photo credit: Chaim Collins)
Charity in car 521
(photo credit: Chaim Collins)
According to research done by the Bank of Israel, 21 percent of Israel lives below the poverty line. Isolate Jerusalem, and that number goes up to 41%.
While Israel has been largely resistant to the effects of the worldwide economic crisis, the fact remains that it has the highest poverty rate in the developed world, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Home to 10% of the Jewish state’s eight million people, Jerusalem alone hosts about 4% of the country’s population living below the poverty line.
In December 2003, Malcolm Babbin and Ruti Romanov-Pinsker, co-founders of Yesh Lecha Chaver (“You have a friend”), decided to do something about the issue. Both had previous experience volunteering with another charity supporting families in need.
“I saw the poverty that surrounds Jerusalem, and I believe it is an important lesson for our children to know that through no fault of their own, some families do not have the means to provide a basic meal for their children,” Babbin says. “There are a lot of people in so many different situations, and I thought it was important for our children to be aware of others less fortunate than themselves.”
But inspiration for such an idea is one thing, and implementation is another. Fortunately, Babbin had a network of volunteers willing to help get the nascent amuta (nonprofit) off the ground.
“At the time, I was working in a company of around 2,000 people,” he says. “And the thought occurred to me that, even without any funding, if 1,000 of us brought two items of canned goods every week, it would be enough to help support 100 families.”
Within six months Yesh Lecha Chaver was an official nonprofit, comprised of eight volunteers serving over 40 families. All of the families are referred by the Jerusalem Municipality’s Welfare Department on a completely egalitarian basis.
“One of the reasons why we never really grew beyond the 40-family mark is because we operate on a completely voluntary basis, which means zero expenses, and expanding the charity would have required part-time staff,” Babbin explains.
This Hanukka will mark the 10th anniversary of Yesh Lecha Chaver, which until recently maintained stable numbers in the amount of families it helps.
Speaking for the volunteers, he adds, “If we could help to break the cycle of poverty from one generation to the next that would truly be a gift for each family.”
While Yesh Lecha Chaver’s main priority is feeding families in need, it also finances extra tuition and after-school activities for the children of recipient families, when its budget allows.
“We have people from many walks of life volunteering with us,” Babbin says. “But the one thing everyone has in common is their dedication to the families. Just one example is a member who is a publisher and whose work includes a significant amount of international travel. He goes out of his way to plan his business trips so that he is back in Jerusalem by distribution day. Both in terms of personal time and money, we do whatever we need in order to keep providing for these families.”
Volunteers are each responsible for four to eight families, some families consisting of up to eight members. However, due to the decline in donations, the organization has been unable to help as many families as it would wish; 30 families are currently served.
“We have a list of people who would like to help us as volunteers, but without the funds to support more families, we can’t enlist their help,” Babbin says. “So to anyone who is looking for a worthy cause, I would just like to say we guarantee that every single shekel donated goes entirely toward food for these families.”