Recession a catastrophe for charities

Food distribution agencies cite "worst-case scenario that's going to get worse" as unemployment grows.

soup kitchen 224 88 aj (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
soup kitchen 224 88 aj
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The growing recession and rising unemployment are creating a complete catastrophe for charities involved in food distribution, The Jerusalem Post heard Tuesday. "This is a worst-case scenario, a situation that is usually only seen in a nightmare," commented Abraham Israel, founder and chairman of the Hazon Yeshaya Humanitarian Network, which runs a large number of soup kitchens and food distribution centers across the country. "The picture is already very bleak, but I believe this is only the start and it's going to get much, much worse as the year progresses." Speaking by phone from a fund-raising trip to London, Israel estimates that there has already been an increase of some 30 percent in people seeking food aid assistance from his soup kitchen operation, which serves only those who are deemed by the National Insurance Institute as "zakaut aleph" - having no other means of income. "It's a very scary situation," he continued. "We already run our operations with very low overheads, but we are now doing all we can to make our expenses even lower." Israel said he has started "pleading with suppliers to give us better prices and longer to pay them off, especially for Pessah, when all kosher food products go up in price." The picture is particularly stark, continued Israel, when coupled with the significant drop in local and international donations. "I've been pleading with donors to support us and am now preparing to travel much further afield in order to find funding," he said. The situation at Latet, Israel's largest food distribution nonprofit, which works together with some 120 independent agencies around the country, is no less difficult. "Even though it will still take time before the latest wave of unemployed start needing assistance, we are already beginning to see the gap growing between those asking for help and those able to give it," observed Latet general manager Eran Weintraub. In its "Alternative Poverty Report," released late last year, Latet noted a 50-60% increase in the number of people requesting food assistance and a 25% drop in those making donations. According to Weintraub, it is the business sector that has cut back its financial support the most. "Hi-tech companies and those who are traded on the stock market have significantly reduced their social welfare campaigns," he said, adding "we need to be very creative if we are to continue with this work and we'll need whatever help the public is able to offer." Last month, the government proposed a NIS 6 million aid package aimed at easing the economic burdens faced by hundreds of local charities and grass-roots organizations in order to allow them to continue their essential social welfare work. However, with numerous nongovernmental organizations believing that the aid plan is not substantial enough, it has been predicted that many charities could close down in the next few months due to the difficult economic climate. "It's now time for the government to face up to its responsibility more than ever before," concluded Weintraub.