Coronavirus brings Eilat's largest soup kitchen to the verge of collapse

The soup kitchen used to receive surplus food from hotels, but Health Ministry regulations have made this no longer possible.

Eilat, Israel (photo credit: MEITAL SHARABI/LOIR ABULAFIA)
Eilat, Israel
Eilat's largest soup kitchen is on the verge of collapse, due to coronavirus restrictions preventing them from receiving the bulk of its food supply.
The Beit Raphael – Latel Eilat soup kitchen used to receive much of its food from the surplus food collected from the numerous hotels throughout the city. As Eilat is a major tourist destination, with thousands of vacationers flocking to the southern city each year, this means there was always a large amount of food available to feed the city's needy. When hotels were shut down during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, the Eilat Municipality stepped in to help distribute food.
Now the hotels are opened once again, with tourists returning to the city. However, Health Ministry regulations mean hotels no longer have surplus food, as they are required to only serve ready-made single-person meals.
This is further worsened by the number of those in need of food in the city tripling since the start of the outbreak, as the COVID-19 pandemic has brought the economy into crisis.
While Beit Raphael continues to work as hard as it can, the soup kitchen has since racked up a debt of NIS 120,000, something its founder and director describes as a death sentence.
“Before the coronavirus, we managed to help hundreds of residents. During the first wave, when hundreds of newly poor people started to come, everyone rallied, and we were deluged with assistance. We started distributing food to a thousand people a day and sometimes more,” Beit Raphael founder and director Zilli Grossman said in a statement. “For a month now I’ve been getting almost no food from the hotels, and I have hundreds of people I cannot leave hungry.”
Grossman, who lives in Jerusalem, refuses to let her life's work fall apart, and commutes to Eilat for a few days a week to work at the soup kitchen. “I cannot let the place collapse,” she explained.
As a city heavily dependent on tourism, Eilat's economy was hit harder than any other city in Israel during the first wave. By the end of April, the unemployment rate in the city reached 45.6%, and almost a quarter of families had both parents out of work.
“Due to the severe impact of the coronavirus crisis on the tourism industry, there is no doubt that the rehabilitation of Eilat will take a long time, and that the unemployment rate will continue to be high in the coming months,” Eilat Mayor Meir Yitzhak Halevi said in May.
“This is an acute blow to the lives of our residents. We must quickly create employment for the unemployed to help them as much as possible and prevent negative migration.”
Eytan Halon contributed to this report.