Aid organizations rally to help the needy on Passover

According to the findings, some 86 percent of charitable organizations said they had registered an increase in demand for food – a 14% increase from last Passover.

VOLUNTEERS PREPARE food packages for the needy ahead of Passover at a Kolel Chabad center earlier this week (photo credit: KOLEL CHABAD)
VOLUNTEERS PREPARE food packages for the needy ahead of Passover at a Kolel Chabad center earlier this week
(photo credit: KOLEL CHABAD)
As at every Passover, Israel’s leading charitable organizations work together to assist hundreds of thousands of needy families for the holiday.
Latet, the humanitarian aid organization, released a survey ahead of the festival which found an increase in the demand for food among the needy.
According to the findings, some 86 percent of charitable organizations said they had registered an increase in demand for food – a 14% increase from last Passover.
The survey questioned the heads of the nonprofit organizations throughout the country in order to shed light on the situation on the ground.
The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, led by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, granted NIS 17 million ($4.5m.) in assistance to some 60,000 needy Israelis including families, children, elderly, immigrants and soldiers.
The IFCJ annual Passover grants come in the form of gift cards with which recipients can buy food and clothing according to their needs and personal taste, anonymously and without fear of stigma.
The IFCJ took the opportunity to blast the government for failing to wage an effective war on poverty.
Nearly two years ago the government- appointed Committee to Fight Poverty, headed by MK Eli Alalouf, issued proposals to close Israel’s deepening economic and social gaps, with some 1.7 million citizens falling below the poverty line.
Rabbi Eckstein said the government is not only stalling on implementation of this plan, it has cut back on social welfare spending, forcing nonprofit organizations like IFCJ to step in.
“Poverty in Israel, the ‘Start- Up Nation,’ is not an Egyptian plague or destiny. Poverty is the result of government policies that drastically decrease social welfare payments and neglect the weaker populations within society that are left to the care of the nonprofit organizations,” Eckstein said.
“This cycle can be stopped if the government of Israel would finance and implement the Alalouf Welfare Committee recommendations – a committee the government appointed but whose recommendations are now collecting dust. The government must finance a program to diminish poverty,” he said.
According to Latet’s Alternative Poverty Report, released in December, there are 2,624,000 people – accounting for 31.9% of the population – living in poverty in Israel, of whom nearly one million, 35.2%, are children.
The report also found that 37% of children were forced to skip a meal or eat very little due to their family’s financial hardships, while 14% did not eat for an entire day because their parents were unable to provide food.
In addition, 24% of children were sent to school without a sandwich or food, while 4% said this was an ongoing occurrence.
Some 14% of children were forced to beg in the street as well as sift through garbage cans for food.
Latet executive director Eran Weintraub also criticized the government for the lack of nutritional security among the needy.
“Hundreds of thousands of families and lone people are living with severe food insecurity and hundreds of charitable organizations have carried the burden for years, waiting for governmental leadership, for it to stop ignoring the severe trappings of poverty suffered by hundreds of thousands of families and children and express a change in national priorities,” he said.
Weintraub said that he hopes the government will uphold its recent promise to allocate NIS 25m. to the issue of food security, though he noted that in order to truly eradicate food insecurity the government would have to allocate NIS 1.5 billion per year.
He added that the state needs to do more than just “assist the charities” and called on the government to formulate an in-depth plan to address food insecurity, including rescuing food and allocating more funds.
In addition to the survey, in the week before Passover Latet held its annual food drive at supermarkets across the country, collecting food for tens of thousands of needy families.
Leket Israel, the National Food Bank, will distribute some 1,500 tons of food in time for the holiday to feed 44,000 families in need.
“What makes Leket Israel deliveries so special is that all the food that we are distributing is rescued by our teams of volunteers and employees. It’s high quality, healthy food that would sadly end up in landfills,” said Joseph Gitler, founder and chairman of Leket Israel.
Leket Israel works with 195 organizations throughout the country, providing food to some 175,000 people weekly.
The organization’s gleaning initiative, Project Leket, sends thousands of volunteers and dozens of paid pickers into fields and orchards throughout the year to gather produce donated or left unpicked by farmers.
The Colel Chabad charity also distributed food for thousands of people for the Seder night and the duration of the holiday.
In total, the organization will be providing some 19,700 underprivileged families in 68 municipalities all around the country, roughly 98,500 crates of Passover food and staples, including cleaning supplies and a Haggada delivered to their doorsteps.
In addition, some 16,700 elderly people will be participating in a Seder at Colel Chabad soup kitchens and facilities around the country, helping not only to feed the hungry in a respectful and meaningful way, but also to alleviate the loneliness that can often be felt around the holidays.
“We’re seeing a situation where the numbers of people that are asking for help is on constant rise, but particularly around the holidays the needs become even more pressing,” said Mendi Blau, Israel director for Colel Chabad.
“This year alone we will be delivering food packages and prepaid credit cards designated for food purchases to thousands more homes. However, we are encouraged by the support from people all over the world who recognize the challenge and help us make this effort possible,” he said.
Despite harsh criticism of government policies toward the needy, the Welfare Ministry also attempted to provide assistance to the elderly for Passover.
The ministry called on all senior citizens and Holocaust survivors who do not have anyone to celebrate the holiday with, to join one of the Seders run by the ministry at vacation centers and nursing homes around the country.
The ministry announced it would fund every lone elderly person, allowing them to spend up to two days in the centers during the first holiday and up to three days during the second holiday of Passover, including full board, accommodation, holiday meals and social activities.
In addition, the volunteer system within the ministry will run a program called “We are all gathered around the table,” which connects families, communities, and institutions with lone senior citizens to celebrate the Seder together.
This year the program is expected to hold 225 events in 145 communities throughout the country.
Similarly, Yesh Atid, in collaboration with the Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Victims in Israel, launched a national initiative connecting people who have nowhere to spend the Seder with.
The campaign, called “Nobody stays alone on Passover,” aims to help new immigrants, lone soldiers, youth at risk and Holocaust survivors find a family to celebrate the holiday with.
As such, a dedicated website was launched to help make the connections, as well as a hotline.