What do COVID-19, cucumbers and kindness have in common?

Leket Israel is Israel's National Food Bank. Amid COVID-19, it distributed 18.5 tons of fresh fruit and vegetables.

Leket Israel volunteers gleaning in the fields (photo credit: LEKET ISRAEL)
Leket Israel volunteers gleaning in the fields
(photo credit: LEKET ISRAEL)

The COVID-19 pandemic ravaged the lives of citizens around the globe, making people sick, forcing businesses to shutter, and leaving the vulnerable more alone than ever. But one organization, Leket Israel, found a silver lining.

Leket Israel, the National Food Bank, is the leading food rescue organization in Israel. And in the past year it increased its distribution of fresh fruit and vegetables from 15.5 thousand tons to 18.5 thousand tons. This success, if one can call it that, is a direct result of COVID-19.
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As COVID-19 closed hotels and event halls – and even hospital cafeterias – farmers were left with excess crops.
“We had tons of crops and nothing to do with it,” said Hezi Daniel, a farmer from Moshav Ahituv in central Israel. He and another 100 families supply around 65% of the country’s cucumbers in a “normal” year. But this year, he said, after investing the usual amount in growing their crops, there was no one to sell it to.
 Fresh rescued produce by Leket Israel  ( Photo Credit : Leket Israel ) Fresh rescued produce by Leket Israel ( Photo Credit : Leket Israel )

“My friends and I decided that we would want to donate the excess,” Daniel said. They reached out to Leket and volunteers came to help harvest the crop and with large trucks to haul it away. 
“They did a huge mitzvah for the people of Israel, but also for us,” Daniel said. Of course, he wanted to sell his goods. But when it was clear that would not happen this year, he understood that otherwise it would rot away. Rather, he could comfort himself with the knowledge that someone in need benefited from his work.

“Leket makes the connection between the farmers and the families,” Daniel said. They are fulfilling the mitzvahs of not leaving the weak behind, of helping those who cannot help themselves and alleviating the pain of the suffering. 

“These people at Leket are pretty wise,” he continued, “and they are very efficient.”
You can help people in need just like Daniel did. Here's how >>
For perspective, even before the COVID crisis, Israel wasted an estimated 2.5 million tons of food, valued at NIS 20.3 billion, according to the Food Waste and Rescue Report published last year. This means that approximately 35% of domestic food production was lost. The report showed that approximately 1.2 million tons worth NIS 7.1 billion was rescuable. 
In 2019, Leket provided 175,000 people weekly across Israel with produce and/or cooked food. This year, amid COVID, the demand grew, and it provided close to 250,000 people with these services every week. 
Moreover, it increased its rescue and redistribution of fruit and vegetables specifically by 50%, said Leket Israel’s Founder and Chairman Joseph Gitler – a direct result of the impact of coronavirus on the farming community.
“Many farmers made the decision that if they cannot benefit financially from these crops, then why not make use of them in another way,” Gitler said. “It was a real human attitude – a chesed [kindness] attitude.”
Recently he visited one of the Leket warehouses. Gitler described a crate of potatoes, being sorted for distribution.
“People might think that because it’s ‘surplus’ that it’s poor quality,” he said. “But the truth is, Leket is providing grade A high quality produce fresh from the farms- it’s nutritious, sometimes even fresher than what they could buy in a store and I think that is pretty outstanding.”
And he said it is even more “outstanding when you consider the challenge of keeping up with the increased demand. Before Passover, there is even greater need. But with the help of the community and our donors, I am confident Leket Israel will stand up to the task."
Leket Israel pickers rescuing fresh produce  ( Photo Credit : Leket Israel )Leket Israel pickers rescuing fresh produce ( Photo Credit : Leket Israel )

One of the people who benefitted this year was 80-year-old Cochava Gabbai, who lives in a small apartment in Hadera. Her husband is disabled and lives in an area nursing home. When COVID hit, she became isolated and unable to survive.

“I was born into a poor family and I have never been able to rise above that economic level,” Gabbai said in an interview for a Leket newsletter. “I’ve lived in the same house for 50 years and I take care of it as much as I can on my own. I never wanted to have to ask anyone for help."
But eventually, COVID-19 pushed her to reach out. A local nonprofit connected Gabbai to Leket, who began bringing her fresh and nutritious meals and produce.
“The food packages I receive every week from Leket Israel are very tasty. It makes me feel good to know that I’m taken care of and I’m not all alone during this challenging time,” Gabbai said.
This Passover, make a difference. Donate to Leket >>
Leket is looking for new volunteers to join its team of 15,000 helpers and financial donations to keep the operation running and growing as the world enters a second year of the coronavirus crisis.
Even as Israel resurfaces from the pandemic thanks to the vaccinations, close to a million Israelis remain out of work. Moreover, as the Food Waste and Rescue Report showed, food rescue is beneficial from economic, social and environmental perspectives. 
To learn more or to donate, please visit www.leket.org/en.
The campaign was launched and funded by the Inbar & Marius Nacht Family Foundation, in partnership with Leket Israel. This article was written in cooperation with Leket Israel.