Low income families pay NIS 15 for NIS 150 worth of goods; families gather in Jerusalem to collect baskets of essential supplies for the holiday.
By RUTH EGLASH
Distribution of food staples by NGOs to the country's 1.6 million people living below the poverty line went into high gear on Thursday.
Families gathered outside Yad Ezra V'Shulamit in Jerusalem's Beit Yisrael neighborhood - one of the main food distribution centers in the capital - to collect baskets of essential supplies for the holiday. A large box of matzot, a variety of fruits and vegetables, sugar, oil and soda water were among the items in the packages. Low income families paid NIS 15 for NIS 150 worth of goods.
"I see there is a lot of fruit and vegetables in the basket. That will really help me out for the holiday," said a local resident who will share the contents with her elderly mother. "I used to work as an accountant but recently, due to health problems, I had to stop working and now I have no income."
She said it was her first time receiving food at the distribution center, which receives its supplies from national aid charity Latet.
"I don't like to do this. No one wants to be considered poor or needy but there is no choice for me at the moment," she said.
The center's logistical director, Binyamin Lori, told The Jerusalem Post this year's was the largest distribution ever by the center, which provides food year round and runs similar operations in Eilat, Sderot, Ofakim, Safed, Netivot and Yeroham.
"Yesterday and today, more than 2,000 families will receive food packages from us," he said. "The situation is definitely worsening. Every year we see more and more people who are in desperate need of these basic food staples."
According to figures put out by Latet, from March 26 to 30 it will distribute more than 400 tons of food worth NIS 5 million to over 100 aid centers like Yad Ezra V'Shulamit. More than 8,000 volunteers will help package and distribute the food.
Lori said that around 70 people volunteers were helping at the Jerusalem center.
"We have an honor system here. We believe people when they tell us they need help," he said.
Asked if there was food enough to go around, Lori said: "I don't want to get into that, I just can't take that responsibility on my own shoulders. I try to do everything I can to make sure people are not turned away empty handed."
One elderly woman, who had been waiting at the center since early morning, said this was her second day trying to claim a food package. "I came yesterday but I was not on the list," she said. 'I went and spoke with them and they told me to come back today and I would get one."
With a sick husband, six children and 25 grandchildren to worry about, she told the Post the food package would really help her feed her family throughout the festival.
As more and more people, secular and religious, young and old, started to arrive to collect food parcels, a volunteer named Uzi announced that anyone who was not on the list "should come back tomorrow and hopefully we will be able to help you."
Another volunteer was busy packaging up fruit into plastic bags to put in the baskets. A social worker by training and a university lecturer, she said everyone had to find their own way to help others.
"It [Yad Ezra V'Shulamit] is a really amazing place, it helps all kinds of people, both religious and secular, it does not matter," said the volunteer, who has been working with the charity for a year. "I'm always surprised that each week there are more and more people, but those who come really appreciate the help they are getting."
"What is hard, however, is that the government of this country does nothing to help these people," she continued. "Without charities such as these, many of the families here today would just not have anything to eat. The government really needs to take more responsibility."
Another woman, who said she regularly takes three buses from her home to get to the center for to get food, said the charity was a lifesaver.
"I work. I take care of an elderly person but the pay is just not enough to feed my family," said the woman, a single mother of three. "I don't feel embarrassed that I need this help, I have no choice. And at times such as Pessah the food parcels really make a difference."
var cont = `Sign up for The Jerusalem Post Premium Plus for just $5
Upgrade your reading experience with an ad-free environment and exclusive content