The Meir Panim charity organization was established to help alleviate and diminish the harmful effects of poverty on thousands of men, women and children across Israel. Striving to make the most of the donations that keep Meir Panim afloat, the organization places tremendous value on its many volunteers. One program thriving through volunteer work is its network of free restaurant-style soup kitchens.
“Meir Panim and our patrons count on outstanding volunteers to continue our goal of providing hungry people with a restaurant atmosphere for free, and making sure poverty-stricken people are treated with dignity and respect,” said Goldie Sternbuch, Director of Overseas Relations for Meir Panim. “They give their time and energy to Meir Panim and warm all of our hearts.”
Each time Sara Cohen (pseudonym) visits the Holy Land, she volunteers at Meir Panim’s Jerusalem soup kitchen. She is planning aliyah (immigration to Israel) in December. Cohen enjoys volunteering for Meir Panim so much that she shared that she is looking forward to returning to Meir Panim on a regular basis after aliyah.
Cohen keeps a diary of her Meir Panim experiences and impressions. She notes that not only does Israel have to fight terrorism, but it must also fight against the enormous poverty which plagues the country.
Here are excerpts from her moving notes:
“Musicians play in the streets for shekels and many old people sit in rags jangling a cup with coins. Even those who are generous with their distribution of money are faced with the dilemma of how much to give and to whom.
The Torah tells us that if a man places his hand in front of you, you should recognize his pain at being reduced to begging and give him what you can to alleviate his suffering.
Three years ago I entered Meir Panim as a volunteer for the first time. The food is hot and nutritious. Soup, two starchy vegetables, two stewed vegetables, a meat or fish and bread.
Fruits and vegetables come from the fields of Leket (meaning “to gather”) – these fields were purchased by a wealthy Canadian for the sole purpose of aiding Israel’s poor. The fields are harvested by volunteers from all over the world.
Most of those who staff Meir Panim are volunteers. Seminary girls are sent in groups and families come from all over the world to volunteer when they are celebrating a bar or bat mitzvah.
We are blessed to also have as volunteers a group of special needs young men. This group arrives with a worker who sometimes spends the day with them. They peel vegetables and make salads.
Each one of them is a joy to work with. Their work ethic is amazing and would serve any of us well. There are also some special needs young men who are able to come and go on their own. One of them has the job of emptying and cleaning the trays. This special young man virtually knows the Torah by heart and reads the Torah weekly in a variety of places.
Another assists with taking trays to people and is responsible for assisting the blind gentleman who comes each day a half hour before closing. A new young man had the job of serving the vegetables. I lost my heart to this young man who is charming and delightful and dedicated to his work.
The people who come to Meir Panim are young and old, Jew and Arab, Russian and sabra and Ethiopian. Some are religious and some are not. Some say thank you and some do not. The thing that they have in common is that they are hungry.
Most of the people have been there throughout my three years of volunteering. They have developed a camaraderie and genuinely care for each other. They share clothes and food. Many times as I walk through the city I am greeted by one of our people. They are the reason I keep returning.
Each of us has our favorite charity and most have more than one. Meir Panim is high on my list and I would ask each of you to consider it.”