The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews gave heating grants and blankets to 20,000 elderly people in 72 communities on Wednesday as part of its Operation Winter Warmth.Launched at the Monart Center of the Ashdod Art Museum, with hundreds of volunteers in attendance, the annual assistance operation will provide NIS 7.5 million worth of donations for senior citizens.“The State of Israel recognizes the plight of vulnerable elderly people during the winter period and assists some of them through the National Insurance Institute. But that is not enough. Hundreds of thousands of elderly people in Israel are living in permanent economic crisis and they cannot heat their homes during winter,” IFCJ Founder and President Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein said. Over the course of the campaign, in cooperation with the Welfare and Social Services Ministry, the IFCJ will allocate NIS 350 grants that can be redeemed at any bank branch. Social workers will distribute the grants via hundreds of volunteers, who will also hand out 5,000 high quality winter blankets to those in need.“The Fellowship works to broaden the reach of aid to tens of thousands more elderly people. The storm last month proved how vulnerable elderly people are in harsh weather conditions, and our assistance will help get them through,” Eckstein said.The IFCJ chose to launch the campaign in cooperation with the Ashdod Municipality in recognition of its efforts to reduce economic gaps and strengthen the older population in the city.“‘Respect your elders’ – that’s the message behind our work throughout the year to help this age group as much as possible. In Ashdod, there are extensive project plans, from welfare to personal security to cultural and leisure activities subsidized by the municipality. It is also important for us in the education system to teach and emphasize the message of recognizing and honoring the elderly population in order to build a better and more tolerant society that helps, donates and volunteers just as the Fellowship does through Operation Winter Warmth,” said Dr. Yehiel Lasri, mayor of Ashdod.Since 2006 the IFCJ has distributed grants totaling NIS 82m. to help thousands of seniors during the winter months.