In the wake of COVID crisis, Leket Israel gives food and faith to Israel’s poor

Since COVID-19 came to Israel, Leket has intensified its activities and has delivered 1.8 million hot meals and 14,000 tons of fresh produce to people in need.

Leket delivering food to housebound elderly during coronavirus (photo credit: LEKET ISRAEL)
Leket delivering food to housebound elderly during coronavirus
(photo credit: LEKET ISRAEL)
Natali Digora, 48, is a talented opera singer, who worked for the New Israeli Opera from 2000 until March 12, 2020. On that fateful day in March, life as she knew it started to unravel.
“We were on stage and the director of the opera came and told us that he received notice from the Health Ministry that you cannot have 100 people onstage,” Digora recalled. “I changed my costume and went home.
“I was completely numb,” she continued. “I didn't know what to do with myself, how do I go on from here?”
In the beginning, Digora was scared but she believed that everything would be OK.
“I can handle this,” she would tell herself, remembering that she had food at home and she could make it last “as long as possible.”
However, eventually it ran out and she got to a place she didn’t have enough money to buy food.
“So, I went a few days without eating anything at all,” she said.
Until Leket Israel reached out with support and food.
“They brought me food and beautiful vegetables, like tomatoes, zucchini that I would buy at the market and I was so happy to receive them,” Digora said with a smile and a tear in her eye. “It made me feel like I wasn't alone. Like I have a family, and even though I don’t see them, I know they’re there for me.”
Unfortunately, Digora’s story is not unique.
Since the start of the coronavirus crisis, more than 1 million Israelis are unemployed for the first time. For many of them, Leket Israel - the National Food Bank - is what sustains them.
Leket rescues surplus food from venues such as hotels and restaurants that would otherwise be discarded and provides it to those in need.
The organization was founded by an American oleh from New York, Joseph Gitler, who came to Israel from New York in 2000.
When he arrived in the Start-up Nation, he was surprised to learn of the economic gaps that exist in Israeli society, he told The Jerusalem Post. Although Israel is an affluent society with a thriving hi-tech arena, poverty in Israel is a significant program.
Data from the National Insurance Institute in 2018 showed that 21.2% of the population was living in poverty, including 29.6% of the country’s children (about one in three children).
The coronavirus pandemic has only exacerbated the challenge.
“I soon became acquainted with the statistics of poverty in the State of Israel,” Gitler said. “The poor included people with jobs but very low salaries, which kept them below the poverty line. I also became aware of the amount of food that was being thrown away on a daily basis: surplus agricultural products, as well as food from restaurants, caterers and army bases.
“I came to the realization that the most efficient and economical way to feed those in need was to minimize waste and divert the excess food to them,” he continued.
Gitler said that there is an enormous amount of food thrown away in the country.
According to the 2018 Food Waste and Rescue Report produced by Leket Israel and BDO Israel, during that year, 5.5 million pounds of food were discarded, which was valued at $5.5 billion. That adds up to about 35% of the volume of food production in Israel.
Of this, 2.6 million pounds of food, worth about $2 billion, is potentially salvageable.
In 2003, Gitler set up Table to Table to help solve Israel’s food insecurity crisis. That organization became Leket Israel in 2010, and today the organization is Israel’s largest food distribution network.
On average, before the pandemic, the organization distributed food to more than 175,000 people per week from all sectors of Israeli society. Since COVID-19 came to Israel, Leket has intensified its activities and has delivered 1.8 million hot meals and 14,000 tons of fresh produce to people in need through its network of 230 non-profit partners and municipal welfare agencies.
Leket relies in large part on volunteers and partners to achieve its goal of feeding Israel.
Leket Israel is aiming to operate on a $20 million budget this calendar year. Much of the budget is funded by generous donations from around the world. Gifts to Leket Israel are tax deductible in Israel, the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia and France.
Currently, the organization is running the #filltheirplates campaign, which was launched and funded by the Nacht Philanthropic Ventures - The Inbar and Marius Nacht Family Foundation, in partnership with Leket Israel. Gifts can be made at https://filltheirplates.leket.org/en/.
“The help from people who reached out to me, to take care of me, it warmed my heart,” Digora concluded. “To me, that’s priceless.”


Tags food Charity