Last summer, Benny*, a single father of three in Or Akiva, was faced with a difficult dilemma. Do I leave my job or do I leave my children alone at home every day, all summer long? Benny worked hard at a local factory and his paycheck was barely sufficient for his family. The demanding hours of the job left him in a bind about what to do: forsake his paycheck and the family’s sole source of income, or continue working while his children, 11-year-old Hannah*, nine-year-old Jonathan*, and five-year-old Sarita,* are left vulnerable.
“I just want to give my children the most dignified life that I can,” Benny said, prior to trying to enroll his three children in the local Meir Panim summer camp. However, Sarita was ineligible for the program because she was not yet six years old at summertime. Despite the logistical challenge, the camp directors decided to make an exception and accommodate the young girl. “Every step of the way, Meir Panim helped my kids have an extraordinary summer and they cannot wait for this summer,” Benny said.
About to kick off their eleventh summer, the Meir Panim summer camps offer fun and educational activities for needy children in relaxed and supportive settings. The camps give children space to enjoy their summer vacations in a safe and structured place while their parents continue to work and support their families. Activities include swimming, arts & crafts and sports, as well as field trips and special workshops in music, wilderness survival and archeology.
Meir Panim has records of hundreds of children from across Israel with similar stories and how the organization strives to meet the needs of impoverished families, said David Roth, president of American Friends of Meir Panim. Some 1,000 children attended summer camps in different cities around Israel last summer, Roth said. The camp day – which starts at 8 am and ends at 5 pm – includes two nutritious meals per day. Depending on the location, the programs run between three weeks to two months.
Some 860,900 children were living under the poverty line in 2011, according to the National Insurance Institute’s poverty report released in November 2012.
“While Meir Panim has made great strides in closing the circle of poverty and providing relief for children and families, we also know that there is a great need for poverty assistance across many sectors of Israeli society, so we try to target as many of those in need as possible,” Roth said. “However, our ultimate aim would be to have no Israelis in need of food or basic necessities, and to close our doors.”
Meir Panim works across Israel to alleviate the effects of poverty by providing a range of food and social service programs to give dignity and respect to the needy. Meir Panim’s programs include free restaurants, meals-on-wheels, school lunch programs, prepaid food card distribution and after-school youth clubs. Since 2000, the organization has served all types of Israelis, regardless of ethnicity or religion.
*Names have been changed to keep anonymity.