The forced closure of hotels and restaurants has left Meir Panim without access to the rescued surplus food donated by these industries pre-Covid. At the same time, there has been a huge increase in demand, especially from individuals who find themselves in need of these services for the first time. As Israel's unemployment rate has risen from 4% back in March to 26% at the height of the pandemic, Meir Panim has gone from serving 2,650 meals a day to 5,500 meals a day to meet the demand of the newly unemployed.
Meir Panim has five restaurant-style soup kitchens located throughout the country in the cities of Dimona, Tiberias, Tzfat (Safed), Jerusalem and Or Akiva. Tiberias and Or Akiva in particular have suffered tremendously since many residents of these communities worked in the hospitality industry as housekeepers, bartenders, maintenance workers, etc. With hotels shuttered, many are currently on furlough and unemployed.
To accommodate the growing demand and the Covid restrictions, the restaurant-style soup kitchens quickly transitioned to serving takeout meals, and Meir Panim increased its Meals-on-Wheels program, a service previously intended primarily to feed those who are homebound, especially elderly and disabled people. Meals-on-Wheels are prepared at the restaurant-style soup kitchens and delivered to recipients by volunteers. Other patrons choose to come directly to the kitchens to pick up their meal packages.
Committed to those in need
Despite the added food and operational costs, the organization has not let the difficult circumstances impact its commitment to serving high-quality meals to those in need. Branch managers, along with many more volunteers, now spend hours cooking and packaging food.
Ilanit Hafuta, head of the Or Akiva branch, believes “It is important to provide the healthiest meals possible, especially now when many people aren’t working, and older people, Holocaust survivors, and children aren’t able to go out to help themselves.” Hafuta notes that “the assistance Meir Panim provides nourishes not only the body but also the soul”.
Cherie Albucher, a volunteer from Modi’in, first got involved with Meir Panim after visiting the Dimona branch as part of an organized group trip with Mothers with Meaning and Masa Israel Journey. She has since volunteered on numerous occasions. “It was amazing. It was an opportunity to give back. That was our main message – that we are one family, giving back to the community, and we received something from them as well. There is a lot of fulfillment when you can give to someone else and make someone smile,” she says.
Meir Panim also understands that the issue of poverty and food insecurity knows no bounds. That is why they provide services for individuals of all ages and backgrounds with programs such as its Neighbor Youth Centers in Sderot for at-risk teens, a Holocaust Survivor Day Center in Dimona and prepaid shopping cards to families.
Meir Panim’s goal is to be able to continue increasing its capacity in order to serve its growing number of clients. Recognizing that the financial strain the virus has inflicted on many Israelis will outlast the virus itself, the organization strives to help as many people for as long as necessary.
For more information, visit meirpanim.org. To donate, go to www.mpdonate.org. In the US, call toll-free 1-877-7366283 or mail to American Friends of Meir Panim, 88 Walton Street, Suite B1, Brooklyn, NY 11206-4479. All donations made in the US are tax-deductible