Knesset to discuss new food-aid initiative

Program designed by Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia aims to instill healthier eating habits in poor.

charity 521 (photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
charity 521
(photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
The Knesset Caucus for Nutritional Security will discuss on Monday the possibility of implementing a new initiative designed by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia aimed at instilling healthier eating habits among impoverished populations.
While the federation’s Choice Food Program, which boasts a “new era of food security and nutritional support,” has yet to be officially launched, its CEO Ira Schwartz, who is currently here for the Jewish Agency’s Board of Governors meeting, said Sunday that the project provides an alternative and “comprehensive approach to food aid distribution.”
Under the new program, families and individuals in need of charitable assistance will no longer be forced to stand in line to receive food, as is done in traditional soup kitchens, and will not have to accept the goods handed to them.
Rather, “clients” who show up at a soon-to-be-opened food pantry will be able to “shop” more along the lines of a supermarket.
Schwartz, who will present the model to the caucus headed by Kadima MK Ruhama Avraham- Balila, explained to The Jerusalem Post that under its present system, people who turn to the pantry receive only pre-packaged food rather than fresh fruit, vegetables or meat.
“We will create a supermarket whereby people can come and chose the fresh fruit and vegetables that they like; they will be able to order it using touchscreen technology and the elderly or infirm will be able to order the food from home,” he said.
He added that the program would incentivize people to “buy” healthier food, as a social worker would be present to help and advise individuals.
Schwartz said that the overall goal is to address nutritional insecurity and eliminate hunger among members of the Jewish community living in the greater Philadelphia area. He estimated that roughly 11,000 people turn to the federation each year for such assistance, including many young families.
“We do not have exact figures but we do suspect that the situation in Philadelphia has become worse over the last year or two because of the economic situation,” he noted, adding that more people than ever before have been showing up at existing food distribution centers.
While the federation’s holistic initiative is still in the fundraising stage and the supermarket-style pantry only set to open in 2013, the model is already being eyed by organizations involved in food aid distribution in Israel.
Ran Melamed, deputy director of social policy and communication for the social empowerment organization Yedid – one of the organizations that helped establish the Knesset caucus – said that it is the mix of solutions addressing poverty that attracted him to the Philadelphia program.
“There is not only one solution to the problem of poverty or nutritional insecurity; there are many different groups of people that have different needs,” he told the Post.
He highlighted that, while many NGOs have moved away from traditional soup-kitchen models and have started to distribute coupons or credit cards of monetary value, some people still require ready-made food.
Melamed said that Monday’s forum in the Knesset, which also involves representatives from other food aid organizations such as national food bank Leket and humanitarian aid organization Latet, will also focus on the government’s commitments to address the issue of poverty and nutritional insecurity.
Last April, it was announced that both Latet and Leket had won a tender to operate a new Welfare and Social Services Ministry nutritional security initiative, which was to include nationwide programs to address the issue as well as the establishment of a unified body to coordinate all operations in this field. However, funding promised by the government has yet to be transferred and little progress has been made to move the project forward.
“The government needs to take responsibility for this problem and immediately establish a national council for nutritional security,” said Avraham-Balila, who will present findings of research carried out by the Knesset Information and Research Department on the state of food insecurity.
Avraham-Balila said that it was still too early to determine whether the federation’s supermarket-style food aid centers would become a reality in Israel, but as soon as the government establishes a national council to address the issue, she said, all possible options will be thoroughly researched.