“The Coronavirus pandemic has upended our work, and has pushed us in every way possible,” says Mimi Rozmaryn, Director of Global Development for Meir Panim, Israel’s largest assistance network for the needy. Meir Panim operates five Restaurant-Style Soup Kitchens – in Jerusalem, Tzfat, Tiberias, Or Akiva, and Dimona – that provide 490,000 quality meals annually, as well as Neighborhood Youth Centers, a Holocaust Survivor Day Center, and various holiday initiatives. During the height of the lockdown, Mimi explains, Meir Panim was providing meals for triple the number of people they usually assisted, and even with the reopening of the economy, there has been a 25% increase in the number of people requiring help.
The pandemic has not only led to an increase in the number of people requiring assistance but has also changed the way in which Meir Panim acquires its food supplies. Before the onset of the pandemic, Meir Panim relied on the use of rescued food from hotels and event halls for its Restaurant-Style Soup Kitchens. With many hotels and venues having curtailed their activities due to the lockdown and the slow pace of the economy, Meir Panim has had to prepare food directly, or purchase catered food for visitors. “We’re not only feeding more people, but we are doing so at an increased amount of expense,” says Rozmaryn. Meal delivery to those in medical isolation due to COVID-19 and preparation of meals for pickup during the lockdown have added to operational costs.
Nevertheless, says Rozmaryn, the organization has thrived during this period, due to an unprecedented amount of contributions received from generous donors, and the assistance provided by Israel’s Home Front Command, which provided some catered meals, as well as staff to help deliver food to those in isolation. But perhaps most important, says Rozmaryn, is the remarkably dedicated team that has been resilient and creative during these most difficult times. “Our Branch managers are always doing extra when they see someone that is in need. They are amazingly resourceful and well-connected people in their communities, so that people that are in need know where to come, and businesses that want to give know where to go. “She tells the story of a woman in the local Tiberias Branch of Meir Panim, whose child was entering first grade. Sadly, her mother did not have sufficient funds to purchase a computer for her daughter’s distance learning. The manager arranged with a local business to donate a computer for the girl. Another manager learned that a family did not have any beds and was sleeping on the floor. He contacted a furniture store to arrange a donation of beds for the needy family.
“The core mission of Meir Panim,” says Rozmaryn, “is about serving and meeting community needs and serving our clients with a level of dignity.” It is for this reason that Meir Panim serves food restaurant-style fashion. Patrons arrive, sit down, and are approached by a volunteer or staff person, who immediately brings them a tray of food. When they have finished, a volunteer appears and clears their tray. “We want to go one step above giving — we want to give with dignity and respect, and we want our clients not to feel needy, but like members of our family,” she says.
Meir Panim has another goal – to help break the cycle of poverty in Israel. “We not only want to meet the immediate needs of people who are in need, but also to help prevent some of the root causes of poverty,” says Rozmaryn. Meir Panim has embarked on several projects – large and small – including:
* Providing school supplies for entering first graders to start them on the right foot in their academic careers.
* Conducting after-school programs in Or Akiva and Dimona for children in kindergarten through third grade, to help them with their schoolwork.
* Operating After School Neighborhood Youth Centers in Sderot to teach teens to use their time productively both now and in the future. “We teach teens in grades 7-12 grade about their future IDF service, the importance of getting a good job in the army, and how getting a good job in the army can set them on a successful trajectory for life,” says Rozmaryn.
* Managing budgeting workshops in Tzfat to help people remain financially stable.
Meir Panim also operates the Mortimer B. Zuckerman, Abigail Zuckerman & Renee Zuckerman Israel Nutrition Center in Kiryat Gat. This state-of-the-art facility works in partnership with Shevet Achim, Israel’s premier catering company, and provides high-quality meals and Holiday Packages at a low cost, enabling Meir Panim to expand its services to feed more disadvantaged Israelis. The Israel Nutrition Center provides area residents with much-needed employment, thus helping to break the cycle of poverty.
Mimi Rozmaryn is proud of the way that Meir Panim has functioned during the coronavirus crisis and is proud of the way it is viewed within the community. “We are the go-to resource for people in need. We have become the centralized resource for having a pulse on the community in a way that we always had but is acknowledged now in this time of crisis.”