Charities struggle to feed Israel's poor

By Ben Lynfield, September 18, 2009
Jerusalem’s Meir Panim soup kitchen: demand is up, donations are down

Jerusalem’s Meir Panim soup kitchen: demand is up, donations are down

As Rosh Hashanah approaches, Israeli charities are buckling under the strain of providing for growing numbers of needy people, while their own resources are dwindling because of the country’s economic downturn.

“It’s very difficult for those of us who are holding the front,” said Shlomit Shulov-Barkan, deputy director of the Meir Panim soup kitchen network. It has been forced to lay off more than 40 of its 120 employees in the past six months due to declining donations, most of which come from Israelis.

Another leading charity providing food for the needy, Latet, estimates that 200,000 families will need assistance on Rosh Hashanah. But despite a major fundraising campaign, its director, Eran Weintraub, doubts whether all those in need will be provided for.

“The number of people we can help in peripheral areas is down. We distribute less because we get less donations.”

Contributions to Latet have dropped by 30 per cent compared to last year, while need has grown by 15 per cent.

From Latet’s experience in the field, there is nothing to corroborate optimistic headlines that the economy is turning around, Mr Weintraub said.

“I hope someone will help the people we can’t get to. They live in food insecurity. It’s not a situation of starvation, but of hunger. Buying food will mean no money to pay rent or for schoolbooks or medicine.”

Mr Weintraub faults the government for, in his view, leaving the burden of feeding the poor to voluntary groups.

“The people in the government are not connected to the problem and maybe they don’t care,” he says.

A government committee last year headed by Nahum Itzkovitz, director-general of the Social Welfare Ministry, recommended allocating NIS 50 million (£8 million) a year to voluntary organisations to feed the poor.

“So far we haven’t see a dime, even though Netanyahu said as far back as Pesach that the government would deal with food insecurity issues,” according to Mr Weintraub.

Mr Itzkovitz, however, said that his ministry is working on plans to launch a food bank with the business sector and charitable organisations.

“We are working on this for the long-term and a little patience is necessary.”

The ministry organised the distribution throughout the country of 46,000 holiday gift cards worth NIS 400 (£65) each, sponsored by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.

Last updated: 3:32pm, January 5 2011