Israeli NGOs combating hunger on World Food Day

Almost 11 percent of families in Israel experienced significant nutritional insecurity in 2011

Leket volunteers pick crops 390 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Leket volunteers pick crops 390
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Western societies like Israel “have the ability to waste food in epic proportions,” said Joseph Gitler, founder of the NGO Leket, on Tuesday, as countries across the globe marked World Food Day.
The annual World Food Day aims to raise awareness of poverty and hunger, as well as to commemorate the 1945 founding of the UN’s Food and Agriculture organization, which describes its goal as creating a “more food secure and sustainable world.”
According to the National Insurance Institute’s first food security report, published last May, almost 11 percent of families in Israel experienced significant nutritional insecurity in 2011. A breakdown of this figure reveals that food insecurity in the Arab sector was five times as high as in the Jewish sector, and that 10.4% of the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) population suffers from nutritional insecurity.
Leket, which Gitler founded nine years ago, is dedicated to “combating the waste of food” in Israel.
“What Leket does is try to find those sources of [wasted] food, rescue that food and distribute it to agencies who work to provide it for those in need,” he explained.
The volunteers at Leket pick up extra food from restaurants, bakeries, shopping malls, catering companies, wedding halls, corporate cafeterias and even army bases. They then bring the food back to Leket’s warehouse, where they sort and distribute it to the hundreds of organizations that help people in need all over in the country, using the refrigerated trucks Leket has acquired as its operations have grown. These organizations range from soup kitchens to after-school programs to homeless shelters.
“Food donors are excited that someone is dealing with their excess food, because at the end of the day, no one likes to waste,” said Gitler.
“That’s something important in light of World Food Day: No one likes to waste, but what are we willing to do about it? Are we willing to come up with solutions? Are we willing to [go] the extra mile to make sure that food isn’t wasted?” Michal Eldar from the organization Latet, which runs similar operations to Leket’s, echoed Gitler’s sentiments, saying, “People like to feel that they put food on a family’s table.”
Latet’s “Food for Life” program serves as a source of food for 150 charity organizations, which distribute the collected food to people across the country.
The NGO also runs a direct operation for Holocaust survivors’ nutritional needs.
“We do that directly, without going through another [organization],” Eldar explained. “We have volunteers who go to the survivors’ houses once or twice a week and personally deliver food packages.”
In addition, for over 10 years, Latet has conducted holiday operations. On Rosh Hashana last month, volunteers from the organization collected food from customers of one of the country’s biggest supermarket chains.
“We went and asked customers if there was anything in their shopping cart they could leave for us to give to needy people. Some left one or two items, and some a whole shopping cart full,” Eldar said.
The organization also uses social media to call for donations and holds television events with celebrities promoting the cause.
According to a UN hunger report published earlier this month, nearly 870 million people, or one in eight, suffered from chronic undernourishment in the 2010- 2012 period. Sixteen million of them live in developed countries such as the United States and Israel.
“It’s been said that the world is now producing enough food for 10 billion people. There are only seven billion people in the world, so why do we even have something called World Food Day?” Gitler asked. “In the Western world, hunger is frankly embarrassing, because the food is there. To talk about hunger in Israel and the United States is really disturbing.”
This year, agricultural cooperatives were the theme of World Food Day. José Graziano da Silva, directorgeneral of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, wrote in a statement that “over the three decades of decline in national investments in agriculture and official development assistance, millions of small producers have struggled to respond and to cope with variability and crises in climate, markets, and prices.”
He continued, “Since the food crisis of 2007-8 many countries have renewed their commitment to eradicating hunger in the world and improving livelihoods. But in some cases, concrete political, programme and financial support are lagging behind verbal commitments.”
Another of Leket’s activities is dealing with farmers around the country, who call the association when crops are in bigger supply than demand or when some crops have been damaged and become unsellable. Leket’s team of pickers then selects crops to distribute.
“The fact that we are able to impact tens of thousands of needy Israelis every day is very special. But it’s a bittersweet feeling also because of the fact that we have to do this kind of work,” said Gitler.
Last year, Latet submitted a proposal to the Welfare and Social Services Ministry to combat food insecurity, and minister Moshe Kahlon and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu committed to giving NIS 100 million to advance the project. With the minister resigning on Monday, however, Eldar explained that the project is pending.