Committed to relieving the strain of poverty across all sectors of Israeli society, Meir Panim offers an array of programs to aid those most in need

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Sadly, the problem of poverty in Israel remains dire: more than 1.7 million Israelis – about 22% of Israels population – lives below the poverty line according to the 2013 National Insurance Institute annual report. One out of every three children, along with more than 180,000 elderly, live in poverty. While the report found a 0.5% drop from the previous year, 439,500 Israeli households still live below the poverty line.

Helping the most disadvantaged

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 various 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 preloaded with 250 shekels and 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. Nearly 2,000 people receive these cards around the holidays.

A meal at one of Meir Panim's 'free restaurants'

In addition to the special holiday programs, Meir Panim's branches across Israel annually serve approximately 350,000 free meals out of restaurant-style soup kitchens, which also prepare meals-on-wheels for delivery to an additional 190,000 people.

To address the needs of children living in impoverished neighborhoods around Israel, Meir Panim offers hot lunches, after-school 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 gives these children fun and educational experiences that make them feel just as worthy as other children. 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.

Care packages for soldiers

This summer, when rockets rained down on Israel from Gaza, Israelis around the country were in a state of emergency. To assist, Meir Panim organized a massive distribution of greatly needed food and supplies to the tens of thousands of soldiers defending Israel in Operation Protective Edge. The organization delivered more than 5,000 care packages to soldiers along the Gaza border. The packages included food, clothing, toiletries and other items for the soldiers at the front. Families across Israel donated home-baked desserts, giving them to Meir Panim volunteers to bring to soldiers, providing a taste of home during this difficult time. The organization also delivered hot Shabbat meals to soldiers on military bases across Southern Israel and the Gaza border. There is no greater comfort in the world than personally receiving supplies or a homemade treat in the middle of a warzone, said Yonatan, a soldier coordinating the deliveries with Meir Panim.

Meir Panim also distributed care packages for families in the South that included toys and snacks to keep children entertained during the difficult, long summer days – often spent in a bomb shelter. In the Southern town of Dimona, Meir Panims Free Restaurant was forced to close due to the proximity of incoming rocket fire. Staff and volunteers cooked, packaged and delivered meals to the needy in their homes and in shelters. All of these efforts provided encouragement and sustenance to the hundreds of thousands of Israelis in crisis.           

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Meir Panim volunteers distributing toys in southern Israel during Operation Protective Edge