The biggest threat to Israel is not Iran, but rather the country’s social situation, Eli Cohen, marketing and partnerships director at the humanitarian aid organization Pitchon Lev told The Jerusalem Post.Cohen made his remarks during a tour in Rishon Lezion recently of Pitchon Lev’s packaging and distribution facility, which provides some 2,000 food baskets to approximately 900 impoverished families every week.Pitchon Lev was established in 1998 with the main goal of removing people from poverty. It does this in three ways: by providing humanitarian aid, with educational programs, and through strategic and legislative work.The organization assists some 250,000 poor people every year through its distribution of food baskets.The center in Rishon Lezion is one of two such centers. The other, in Karmiel, serves needy families in the North, collecting food every Sunday and Monday, packing it on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and distributing it to the needy every Thursday and Friday.“We don’t give and handout, we sell things,” Cohen said of the organization’s humanitarian activity. “If a father says to his son, ‘We are going to buy food instead of to take food,’ this is a powerful message.”To facilitate this, families arriving at the Center hold a magnetic card, like a credit card, and pay a symbolic amount of NIS 12 for the food basket. “This is not an easy process to stand in line and so we try to make this unpleasant experience as easy and as pleasant as possible,” Cohen said.The government allocates one half of a shekel per family to help pay for the food basket, but has set the average worth of the weekly basket at NIS 180. Pitchon Lev, however, provides families with a basket totaling NIS 380.“When they [needy families] come here, they will get whatever a family needs overall: clothes, food, electric appliances, toys, books, medical assistance, and even eye exams,” he explained.In addition to the food baskets, the center features a second-hand store and a barber who volunteers his time once a week to give free shaves and haircuts.“FOR MOST, this is trivial, but for the families coming here many cannot afford to even go and get a haircut,” he said.In fact, the collection, packaging and distribution are all done primarily with the help of volunteers.During the tour, a group of 178 American 8th-grade pupils who were visiting Israel from the Chicago area arrived to help package food.Ariel Lapson, the assistant director for Israel Education at the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago, told the Post that part of her organization’s educational initiative was to “expose youth to all the demographics and issues in Israel.” “So in addition to instilling a love of Israel, we are also providing an educational understanding and exposing them to concepts of tikkun olam [repairing the world] and tzedaka [charity],” she said.The Chicago Federation, which regularly brings groups to volunteer with Pitchon Lev, is one of countless groups to volunteer with the organization and help the needy in Israel.“We currently have a waiting list of soldiers, companies and individual volunteers who want to come and help,” Cohen said, adding that without the assistance of the volunteers the organization’s charitable activities would not be possible.He called on the public to volunteer and to donate their time, funds, clothes, foods, and supplies to help the poor in Israel.This year the organization is marking 20 years of activity and Cohen said the need to combat poverty in Israel is more important than ever.According to the National Insurance Institute Poverty Report, there are more than 1.8 million people living in poverty in Israel today, some 22% of the population, one of the highest poverty rates among all OECD countries.“This social problem is much bigger than people realize,” Cohen said. “We must recognize the problem and try to combat it.”Cohen slammed the government for what he called the “excuse” that there is “not enough money” to pay for the eradication of poverty. He said there are funds that can be allocated to help the poor, but that the government must first realize this is a priority.“Ending poverty is an extremely important national endeavor... something that needs to be placed at the top of the national agenda, and something that we need to talk about and address,” he said.