Tel Aviv Residents Line Up for Cheap Flour and Rice Ahead of Holidays

Volunteers in impoverished Shapira neighborhood stack up foodstuffs to sell at cut-price rate.

A day before Rosh Hashanah eve, members of the Pardes charity organization were hard at work stockpiling foodstuffs at the community center in Tel Aviv's impoverished Shapira neighborhood.

Volunteers stacked up 100 kilograms of flour, 80 kilos of sugar, 60 kilos of rice, 40 kilos of beans and 30 liters of olive oil Sunday, before residents began pouring in to buy to the products sold at a cut-price rate.

Pardes founder Nir Belitz, 23, stood in the center of the room and served customers patiently as other volunteers wrapped products in recycled plastic bags and carried them to their customers' homes.

Ido Roth, a musician who lives in the neighborhood and is a member of Pardes, packed two packs of flour, two bottles of olive oil, two cans of tomato sauce and shampoo for Tamara Aronov, 73, who immigrated to Israel from Uzbekistan and lives alone. "This is the cheapest store," Aronov said, laughing. A young volunteer later offered to carry her groceries home.

The products sold as part of the Pardes initiative, which were bought in bulk, are considerably cheaper than those available to individuals in the stores, organizers said. A kilo of flour costs NIS 4, a kilo of sugar costs NIS 3, a liter of olive oil is going for NIS 21 shekels and a kilo of salt costs NIS 1.6.

Pardes was founded in 2006 by local residents in the Shapira neighborhood as a grassroots organization intended to strengthen the local community, and boasts 50 members from a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds. This year the group members organized local residents into a collective that bought basic foodstuffs in bulk ahead of the holidays as a way of lowering their cost.

"The local family budget is limited, especially during the Jewish holidays, and it's a problem on the mind of many people in the neighborhood," said Belitz, who moved to the neighborhood a few years ago and works as a chef. "We tried to create an organization where locals can cheaply purchase basic foodstuffs together, as well as strengthening residents' activism and their sense of solidarity."

Some 120 families in the neighborhood - about 300 people - signed up for the initiative.

Getting the word out by going door to door

"We knocked on people's doors and told them about our plan," Belitz said. "We sent out emails and presented our ideas at community centers. We told them that the Jewish holidays are coming up and that the big chain stores are offering big discounts, but prices on only a few products are reduced. We told the residents that we are in favor of proper consumerism and against big chain stores taking over. We told them there was a way to fight the phenomenon by pre-ordering."

Lavrene Diola, a 26-year-old foreign worker from the Philippines, was one of several women waiting outside the community center Sunday. She said she was first told about the initiative by a friend who convinced her to take part in it.

Anat Nahshon, 48, stood beside her and said she decided to order food through the initiative because she wanted it to succeed. Yadin Aleph, a 25-year-old student at Tel Aviv University, said he took part in the initiative because he believed in the ideology behind the Pardes project. "I believe in this sort of consumerism, where a personal connection exists between purchasers and because it's cheaper," he said.

As the hubbub at the community center reached its peak Sunday, Belitz looked ecstatic. Many of the customers became friends while waiting in line, and some have already made inquiries about next month's order.

"If we make a profit it will be of about 30-40 agorot," Belitz said. "But I hope we don't make a profit - that's not our aim."