New gov’t food aid program kicks off amid uncertainty

NGOs involved still unsure where the bulk of funding will come from or exactly what the program’s goals are.

A new government food aid program, aimed at improving the distribution of food donations and regulating the nonprofit sector that provides the food, got off to an uneasy start this week, with the NGOs involved still unsure where the bulk of funding will come from or exactly what the program’s goals are, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
Two organizations – the humanitarian aid agency Latet and national food bank Leket – were informed this week that they had won a tender to operate the Ministry of Welfare and Social Affairs’ much-talked-about Nutritional Security program.
When it was approved last year, the program was touted as being the government’s central effort to tackle poverty.
“We are of course very happy that we won this tender,” Leket CEO Gidi Kroch told the Post on Wednesday. “The tender says we will be the leading organization for this project but at the moment it is still unclear what exactly the government wants us to do. We are literally in the dark and waiting for them to clarify.”
Kroch added that the missing piece of the puzzle was where the money would come from.
“Right now Leket is supporting itself solely from donations and international funding, and we are waiting to see what they will bring to the table in order to increase the distribution of food to the country’s needy,” he said.
The sticking point seems to be that the NIS 22 million allocated so far by the Treasury and Ministry of Welfare and Social Affairs is to be directed toward regulating the thousands of charities that work in the food aid industry, as opposed to directly improving and increasing food security for the country’s poor.
Professor Yosi Tamir, CEO of Tevet, an organization within the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) that has been tasked by the government with overseeing the new program, explained that, to date, government funding for the program was not for food distribution per se, but for administration and regulation purposes.
Tamir, a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s School of Social Work, pointed to a commitment from the non-profit International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ) to provide matching funds for the food distribution part of the program.
However Zion Gabai, head of the Israeli office of the IFCJ, said this commitment was contingent on the government taking responsibility for all aspects of the program, and not just for the administrative side.
“We believe that the government needs to take more responsibility in helping feed the country’s needy and in supporting the logistical work that these NGOs are already doing,” Gabai said. “At the moment, what the government is giving is simply not enough.”
He added that if the IFCJ did not see adequate government funding, it would not be able to move forward.
In response, Ido Benjamin, an advisor to Ministry of Welfare and Social Affairs director-general Nahum Itzkovitch, said the program was just starting.
“It is a trial [period] and the government needs to add more money, either its own or to find outside funding,” Benjamin said. “Over the next few days we will begin building a model of work for this project and over the next three years we will develop it and strengthen it.”
He explained that from the ministry’s point of view, the main thrust of the program is to bring some order to the industry, which has more than 3,000 non-profits operating independently of one another to provide food support.
“We want to make sure that a family in Jerusalem does not get to take three shipments of food from different organizations while someone in Karmiel, for example, does not receive any help at all,” Benjamin said.
Latet director Eran Weintraub said Wednesday that while he was happy to be involved in the program, the organization was still waiting to see if it would be a “serious effort from the government to tackle poverty.”
Just over four years ago, Latet petitioned the High Court of Justice demanding that the government take more responsibility to feed the needy. It was this petition that provided the impetus for the Nutritional Security program, explained Weintraub.
“We just hope that the government will put some serious resources into this and make it work,” he said.