Food aid agency concerned about summer heat's effects

Country’s neediest may be hardest hit by shortages due to heat waves, agency warns; last year's drought caused prices to skyrocket.

FILLING BOXES with basic food staples for the needy 311 (photo credit: Ruth Eglash)
FILLING BOXES with basic food staples for the needy 311
(photo credit: Ruth Eglash)
Representatives of the country’s largest food-aid charity have expressed concern that another long, hot summer could have dire consequences for its food rescue and distribution project – which provides thousands of needy people countrywide with daily meals.
“The heat waves throughout July and August last year caused a lot of damage to the produce, and we are worried that it will be the same situation this coming summer,” Guy Joshua, manager of the Leket Project for Israel’s national food bank, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
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He explained that last summer’s drought caused much of the crops to dry out, and prices of perishable goods to increase. The situation is only slightly improving as the country moves into its hottest months of the year.
“The prices went up because less was produced, and farmers ended up selling the B- and C-grade vegetables and fruits for the same prices they sold A-grade goods the previous year,” said Joshua.
The result, he stressed, meant much fewer leftovers for Leket volunteers to glean and distribute to its growing recipient list of food charities.
Formerly known as Tableto-Table, Leket Israel’s central objective is rescuing leftover food from farms, packing houses, cafeterias, food manufacturing plants and catering halls to be redistributed to more than 270 non-profit organizations – including soup kitchens, shelters, community centers, schools and other centers serving the needy across the country.
Its gleaning project, according to Joshua, works with some 1,700 farmers on a regular basis, and last year collected left-over fruits and vegetables roughly 900 times. In the first three months of 2010, it collected nearly 1000 tons of produce. This year’s figures are similar – despite the fact that the organization has grown and demand for its services has increased.
Figures released last November by the National Insurance Institute show that there has been a sharp rise in the number of Israeli families joining the poverty cycle since the onset of the global economic crisis at the end of the 2008.
Data from the NII shows that more than 435,100 families and 1,774,800 Israelis lived below the poverty line in 2009, compared to 1,651,300 in 2008.
“Over the past two months, the situation for collecting leftover produce has been a little better, but towards the end of last year we were really struggling,” said Joshua. “The hot summer caused serious damage, and the hot weather just seemed to continue on through December and the beginning of January.”
He continued, “Working with farmers is tricky, they will not wait for us; if they have finished picking their fields they will not call us and tell us to come and take the food. We have to keep on calling them, its all about timing,” said Joshua.
On Thursday, Joshua joined other members of the NGO to facilitate a volunteer “open day” at the organization’s own agricultural development on Kvusat Shiller, near Rehovot.
More than 200 people – mostly English-speaking immigrant families with children – showed up to glean leftover potatoes from the Leket field, including some 700 dunams (70 hectares) of farmland owned and donated to the organization by veteran immigrant Sandy Colb.
Spokeswoman Deena Fiedler said that roughly 15 tons of potatoes were collected.