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The Pesach holiday will be here in two weeks, and as always, nonprofit organizations have started raising contributions of money and food. But this year, the economic crisis has cast a shadow over the holiday: The organizations say they have seen a 40 percent rise in the number of people asking for help compared to previous years.

Due to past experience, the organizations said, they were never counting on much state aid. But this year, state aid is particularly hard to come by, since due to the elections, the 2009 budget has yet to be approved by the Knesset. The Social Affairs Ministry has allocated NIS 3 million to the organizations, which they say is a joke.

"Given this reality, our goal is to collect as many meals as possible for the needy," said attorney Eran Weintraub, executive director of Latet - Israeli Humanitarian Aid. "If we normally help about 120 local organizations and 50,000 families, for Passover we forecast that 200,000 families" will need help.

At the same time, the organizations must contend with a drop in contributions. "We are in the midst of a process that started in 2008," Weintraub said. "We are seeing a clear trend of decreasing contributions."

Moreover, he said, there are tens of thousands of newly unemployed people. "They have not yet reached us, so we are not feeling a drastic rise in requests [now]. I assume the critical increase as a result of the crisis will come during the second half of the year. But meanwhile, there are people in growing distress."

As part of its preparations for Pesach, Latet is running various operations, including collecting food gifts from shoppers at 200 Super-Sol supermarket branches and monetary donations from shoppers at Blue Square supermarkets. The organization has also asked major food producers such as Tnuva, Osem, Strauss and Unilever for help. Weintraub said it would take about NIS 30 million to provide for all the families, and he was not sure the organization would succeed.

Other nonprofit organizations reported similar, if not even greater, increases in requests for aid. And in the south, the recent Operation Cast Lead in Gaza exacerbated the problem by damaging local businesses and workers, which has left many families in a very difficult situation.