By Valerie Noab
Over 20% of Israelis don’t know where their next meal is coming from. Yes, even in the Jewish State – the Start-up Nation – even the most basic human need as food is elusive.
Meir Panim not only recognizes this but works to actively combat food security issues throughout the entire country.
And while their restaurant-style soup kitchens are a resounding success, there are some who aren’t comfortable being seen in such an establishment; as they don’t want other members of their community to know the dire state of their economic condition. Others, like the elderly and sick, can’t make it to these soup kitchens at the designated lunch times. And, some, just live too far away to come every day.
Meir Panim, though, came up with a solution to this by adopting a Meals-on-Wheels program. The program, available throughout the country, brings a warm, nutritious meal to a client’s doorstep.
Like the celebrated Meals on Wheels program in America which helps the 2.4 million of the country’s senior citizens, Meir Panim adopted a similar model but went one step further: The organization helps not only Israel’s elderly but anybody else who is below the poverty line.
“The Meals on Wheels option allows us to feed people who really aren’t comfortable being seen in one of our centers and it allows us to feed people who can’t get to our places for a variety of reasons,” Mimi Rozmaryn – Director of Global Development, explained.
At Meir Panim, rather than dictating how the relief organization will aid its clients, it listens to them and adjusts its programming to suit their needs. Hence, the Meals on Wheels program.
“At Meir Panim, our ethos is meeting a community where they want to be helped,” Rozmaryn, said.
The volunteers are someone the client trusts to invite to their home – often a local spiritual leader or a member of the community – bring a warm meal and an open heart. These volunteers are selectively recruited by Meir Panim branch organizers who are attuned to their clients’ needs and sensitivities.
The organization says that although the people they are trying to help may be impoverished or encountered a run of bad luck in their life, that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve to be treated in a respectful manner.
“I can’t underscore how much our belief in our client’s dignity and respect is part of that work. That kind of thinking really makes our program directors so much more than employees of Meir Panim,” she added.
As an example beyond Meals on Wheels, she points to the Meir Panim branch in Or Akiva. There, the branch manager came up with having field trips for kids enrolled in Meir Panim summer camps every Tuesday. It also happens that every Tuesday, Meir Panim hosts an open (and free) food market where parents can take all the fresh fruits and vegetables they need. Having those two initiatives on the same day was no coincidence, though. It was done so children wouldn’t see their parents taking free food.
As for the Meals on Wheels program, it is so much more than just a meal. For many enrolled in the program, sometimes daily interaction with their volunteer is their only connection to the outside world.
The volunteers understand the responsibility they are given and take the time to not only deliver the food, but check in on the clients. For those in a dire situation, sometimes these volunteers are the only people who can report that a person is in desperate need of help.
“When someone gets a Meal on Wheels, a person is coming into your home and checking in on you. The volunteer sees your condition, offers a warm presence and is someone there to take care of you. If they see someone living in a state of crisis, then they report it to the proper authorities,” Rozmaryn said.
And in these scorching summer months, when temperatures skyrocket, Meals on Wheels is a life saver. For the mother who must take care of her small children while school is out of session and can’t bring her family out in the sweltering heat or the Holocaust survivor who can’t make the journey because she is too weak, Meals on Wheels offers the food relief they need.
While Meir Panim’s main tangible product is a nutritious, packaged meal delivered to thousands across the country, the real value is so much more: a direct, thoughtful way, to reach out to Israel’s needy and tell them that they are not alone.