Pessah food package requests double over last year

NII statistics show a sharp increase in the number of Israeli families joining the poverty cycle.

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)
Requests from charities around the country for food aid packages to help feed the country’s growing needy population have nearly doubled this year compared to last year, Israel’s largest food bank, Leket, reported Monday.
Close to 250 volunteers gathered at Leket’s warehouse on the outskirts of Ra’anana Monday to help prepare some 5,400 baskets with basic food staples that will be distributed over the next four days to 70 non-profit organizations countrywide ahead of the Pessah holiday next week, said Leket PR and marketing manger Deena Fiedler.
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According to Fiedler, the organization, which is only one of several preparing for the holiday distribution, made only 2,800 packages last year; but a sudden rise in the number of requests meant that it had almost double the numbers. The organization is set to open a warehouse in Beersheba in the coming months to deal with an increase of requests in the South of the country too.
Figures released by the National Insurance Institute (NII) last November show that there has been a sharp increase 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. Among these figures, 850,300 children were considered poor in 2009, an increase from 783,600 the previous year.
Leket CEO Gidi Kroch said that despite increases in the cost of living over the past year, including soaring food prices, the organization had managed to keep down the cost of creating a Pessah food basket, whose value is between NIS 80 and NIS 120, depending on the size.
He also said that key changes within the charity, which originally started out as a food collection agency called Table to Table and last year merged with food distribution center Leket, had also contributed to the huge surge in requests from various charities in recent months.
“This is my first time volunteering, but it feels good,” said Yuval Rechter, an employee of Pango mobile, who turned out to lend a helping hand on Monday. “I think it is important to make these efforts before each holiday, and I am working hard. I know that if I leave out a bag of rice from one package, to me it’s only rice – but for some, it could be a whole meal.”
He added: “I do think it is a disgrace that private organizations such as Leket have to take care of poor people in this country; I believe it should be the responsibility of the government to help the poor.”
Herzliya Interdisciplinary College student Levi Ben- Baruch was also volunteering at Leket for the first time but acknowledged, sadly, that this is “not the only place that is preparing food packages for the needy.”
Asked how he felt that so many people in modern-day Israel rely on such efforts on Jewish holidays, Ben-Baruch said: “I believe that giving is an inherent characteristic of our Jewish identity and even if there was no one who needed such help, we would still be making these baskets for others.”
By the end of the day Monday, the wave of volunteers, which included high school students and soldiers, had assembled more than 1,400 packages, and the organization is expecting even more people to help out on Tuesday.
“Even though the weather is against us, the spirit here is good, and I am sure that we will reach our target,” added Nir Hassid, head of volunteers for Leket.