Sadly, the problem of poverty in Israel remains dire: more than 1.7 million Israelis – about 22 percent of Israels population – are living below the poverty line, according to the 2015 National Insurance Institutes annual report. Two out of every five children, along with more than 180,000 elderly, live in poverty. While the report found a 0.5 percent drop over the previous year, 439,500 Israeli households are still living below the poverty line.
Food shopping cards before holidays
Since 2000, Meir Panim has been responding to the poverty crisis in a variety of ways, serving all Israelis regardless of ethnicity or religious background through food and social service programs. The organization acts in times of crisis and responds to a variety of needs. For example, the Jewish holidays are particularly difficult for those facing financial or emotional hardships. Prior to Rosh Hashanah and Passover, Meir Panim teams up with social workers across Israel to distribute food shopping cards. Funded by Meir Panim, each debit card is awarded to needy individuals and families who use them at major Israeli supermarket chains to purchase food and household items. The cards are programmed with technology that tracks purchases, blocking their use for alcohol or cigarettes, but still granting recipients the flexibility to customize their purchases. Close to 6,000 people receive these cards around the holidays.
Upon receiving a food card from Meir Panim before Rosh Hashanah, Jerusalem resident and Holocaust survivor Asher said, this is going to save my holiday. Im going to use this to buy myself a chicken, some fruit and vegetables. Im so grateful that I wont be hungry this holiday.
In addition to special holiday programs, Meir Panims branches across Israel annually serve approximately 410,000 free meals out of six restaurant-style soup kitchens, which also prepare meals-on-wheels for delivery to an additional 180,000 homebound, elderly and disabled people.
Safe havens for children
To address the needs of children living in impoverished neighborhoods around Israel, Meir Panim offers hot lunches, after-school youth clubs and summer day camps. These programs serve as a safe haven and touch the lives of thousands of youth and their families. Shalom Suissa, director of the subsidized day camp for young children in Or Akiva, said that the program provides the children with fun and educational experiences that make them feel just as worthy as their peers who are not living in poverty. At camp, children participate in sports and the arts, and travel on at least one field trip each week — to the zoo, the local amusement park and museums.
Meir Panim also springs into action when Israel is in a state of emergency. During Operation Protective Edge, Meir Panim organized a massive distribution of greatly needed food and supplies to the tens of thousands of soldiers defending Israel. The organization is prepared to deliver thousands of lifesaving care packages at a moments notice.
There is no greater comfort in the world than personally receiving food provisions in the middle of a warzone, said Yonatan, a soldier coordinating the deliveries with Meir Panim. These hot meals give soldiers the strength to go on in the face of conflict.
Using precise and innovative strategies, Meir Panim has made a tremendous effort to relieve the burden for thousands of needy Israelis, young and old.
To join with Meir Panim in fighting poverty in Israel, visit www.meirpanim.org. Tax-deductible donations can be sent to 5316 New Utrecht Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11219, or by calling toll-free 877-736-6283.