Kiryat Gat: Meir Panim breaks ground on nutrition center

Nonprofit relief agency starts work on what it says will be largest anti-hunger center in Israel; Gov’t pledges NIS 22m. for food aid NGOs.

meir panim kitchen 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
meir panim kitchen 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Nonprofit relief agency Meir Panim started work on what it claims will be the largest food relief center and accompanying anti-hunger program in Israel, with a special ceremony in Kiryat Gat on Tuesday.
The $7-million center, which includes a renovation and upgrade of its existing facility in Kiryat Gat, will feed more than 30,000 people in the town and the local area on a daily basis. In addition to preparing and delivering food to other Meir Panim food relief centers nationwide and to schools in the area, the new premises will operate a “free” restaurant, a warehouse distributing clothes and furniture, an after-school youth club for children at risk, and vocational training for the unemployed. The center, which is slated to open before the end of this year, will also create some 200 new jobs for the local population.
“The Negev is such a huge area, and many people in the region are struggling due to the economic downturn,” Michael Fromm, chairman of American Friends of Meir Panim – who was in Israel this week as part of a delegation of supporters – told The Jerusalem Post. “The center will not only create hundreds of jobs for people in a depressed economy, but it will provide food services to schools and families that have no one else to turn to.”
According to information from Meir Panim, the project will operate in conjunction with local municipalities, educational and welfare services, and the Sacta Rashi Foundation. The organization will also work with Schulz Quality Catering, which works on similar projects around the country and provides catering services to the government and for-profit sectors.
This partnership will not only increase the organization’s capacity to feed people, but also ensure high-quality meals, said a Meir Panim representative, adding that the majority of funds raised for the new project had been generated in the US. Key donors included philanthropists Mortimer Zuckerman, chairman and editor-in-chief of US News & World Report and publisher of the New York Daily News, and Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
During such difficult economic times, said Fromm, “it is important to look at philanthropy as an investment like any other. When times are tough, people are more selective about where they invest and want a better return on their investment.”
He added, “People look for the highest priority, and we think that feeding children is a highest priority.”
Asked whether it should be up to the government, rather than outsidefunders from the US, to assist the country’s more than 1.5 millionpeople living below the poverty line, Fromm said, “In a perfect world,you would be right. But we do not live in a perfect world, and onething that we learn as Jews is how to take care of each other. If achild needs a warm meal, it is a waste of time sitting around pointingfingers. We just have to do everything we can.”
Meanwhile Tuesday, the Welfare and Social Services Ministry reached anagreement with the Treasury to provide additional funding of some NIS22.5m. to nonprofit organizations working for nutritional security andfood aid distribution. As part of the agreement, the InternationalFellowship of Christians and Jews, headed by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein,will contribute an additional amount to support the initiative over thenext three years.
“We have been fighting for this for the past few years,” commentedWelfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog on Tuesday. “I amdelighted that we have had this breakthrough that will provide asolution to the problem of nutritional security, at least for part ofthe needy public.”