The weeks leading up to Passover are always very busy for Israeli soup kitchens like Meir Panim. Now with the coronavirus pandemic, the soup kitchens are busier than ever; they need all hands on deck. But the coronavirus is placing all Israelis under virtual house arrest, and getting food to Israel's hungry in time for Passover makes everything all the more difficult.
This is especially challenging when a few of our essential staff members were unable to come to work. "One branch manager was injured from moving pots and another is in isolation after being in contact with someone who tested positive" explained Mimi Rozmaryn, Director of Global Development at Meir Panim. "We're super short-staffed," she added.
A silver lining
But there is cause for optimism. The nationwide lock-down has inspired a record number of volunteers to get out of the house and into Meir Panim's nationwide Restaurant-Style Soup Kitchens. The volunteers that come to the branch are essential to keeping it open, they help pack food and deliver packages to Israel's less fortunate.
The growing need
Meir Panim has been getting multiple requests from local municipalities to supply additional meals to thousands of Israelis who can’t afford basic food staples. They are trying to reach the growing demands from clients in isolation and those who have been laid off or put on furlough. With over 1,000,000 Israeli citizens who are unemployed, the need for Meir Panim’s services has grown tremendously.
What's on the menu for Passover?
"For Passover we're doing the same thing we always do but on a larger scale" Rozmaryn explained. "Pre-packaged Seder meals, cooked food, a box of pantry staples including oil, cookies, matzah and canned tuna." And just in case, they threw in a few rolls of toilet paper!
Meir Panim also distributes prepaid grocery cards that look like ordinary credit cards which mitigates any shame involved with purchasing food via food-stamps. Thousands of clients now have the opportunity to shop for their Passover needs in local grocery stores.
A volunteer speaks out
Shira Tjong-Alvarez, from the central Israeli town of Hashmonaim is among those who sprung into action and volunteered at Meir Panim with her 12-year old daughter. She heard about the opportunity from a Whatsapp group in her community. "We put on our gloves and helped unpack food and package the ready-made meals into takeout containers," she said. "People need help and during these times, they need it most."
But the experience wasn't only for Mrs. Tjong-Alvarez, "Me and my daughter talked the entire way home about how meaningful it was" she said. "It was amazing to help provide for the needy in a meaningful way. I volunteer to show my children that there's more to life than just 'you'. There's a whole community around you and a whole community that needs help. It teaches your children to appreciate the things they have.”