Food aid agencies threaten to strike

Nonprofit organizations want government to take responsibility for helping poor.

Leket foodbank volunteer 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Leket foodbank volunteer 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Nonprofit organizations involved in distributing food to the country’s needy populations threatened to launch a public campaign in the coming days, which could even dissolve into a national strike, unless the government starts to address the nutritional needs of the thousands living below the poverty line.
Speaking Tuesday following what was described as an “unproductive” meeting with Welfare and Social Services Minister Moshe Kahlon, representatives of the two largest food aid agencies – Latet and Leket – told The Jerusalem Post that previous government promises to address nutritional security had failed to materialize and that unless the state takes responsibility for poverty, then drastic action will be needed.
“From our perspective, we informed [Kahlon] that we are expecting an immediate solution and if not, we will start a public campaign,” Eran Weintraub, director of Latet, told the Post. “From our point of view we cannot wait any longer because the situation in the field is getting worse and worse.”
A spokesman for Kahlon said that the minister is on the same page as the nonprofits and agrees that the situation is acute. He said that Kahlon had already started to push the government to secure a base of NIS 100 million in funding for such a program and that in the coming days would meet again with the finance minister’s representatives.
“If there is a breakthrough in the next few days then we will be happy to accept it, but if not we will have to take some serious steps,” commented Weintraub, emphasizing the need for government intervention.
Leket CEO Gidi Kroch told the Post that overall the situation was “discouraging.”
“We have been trying to deal with this for the past few years but nothing is going on,” he said, adding that Kahlon appeared uncertain about how to move forward in tackling the problem.
Kroch said that now, the only way forward is for Kahlon to approach Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and ask him to commit the funds for this program. He added that the NGOs also feel that the NIS 100m. being talked about is not enough to address all the issues at hand and closer to NIS 200m. is needed.
Kroch also said that if the matter does not progress then the NGOs would have to “go to the public and convince other charities to take action.”
“It would be the last resort and of course we do not want to take drastic measures. But if we have no choice, we will close down all the food aid charities for a few days and get the people out onto the streets in protest,” he said. “This is not only our struggle but we are fighting for the rights of the underprivileged.”
According to the most recent figures from the National Insurance Institute, more than 433,000 families lived below the poverty line in 2010, or 1,733,400 people. Of these, 837,300 were children.
However, Latet and other organizations working to distribute food to these families say that through 2011 there was a very high increase in the amount of requests for food.
Five years ago, Latet petitioned the High Court of Justice demanding that the government take more responsibility in feeding its needy citizens. It was this petition that pushed the Welfare Ministry to begin looking into the current system.
A subsequent report authored by Nahum Itzkovitz, the ministry’s director-general, found that the food aid sector was not regulated and did not always provide the right kinds of food to those in need.
Based on that report, Latet and Leket were awarded Welfare Ministry tenders to create and operate a special government- backed food aid distribution program. With a slated budget of NIS 22m. and support from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the program was meant to help coordinate the work of hundreds of nonprofit organizations distributing food to the needy and raise the quality of food being handed out.
The program, however, never materialized because the funds never received final approval.