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Feeding 175,000 People Every Week

Inge2 Masked Up... Charlotte Kuritzky (left) and Inge David volunteering at Leket in Raanana

The original title of this article was to be "A Day in the Life of an Eggplant"; however, the work that goes on here at Leket Israel is so vast that this title proved to be totally inadequate. It involves so much more than just packing eggplants and many other vegetables and fruit and making sure that it reaches all those 175,000 recipients every week.

Founded in 2003 by Joseph Gitler, Leket - Israel, the National Food Bank, rescues food - fresh nutritious produce that, if not gathered, would all go to waste.

The name of this organization - LEKET - is very significant; it is a biblical term which means "gleaning" and refers to the gathering of the harvest. "When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap all the way to the edge of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not pick your vineyard bare or gather the fallen fruit; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger." Leviticus 19.v.9, Etz Hayim bible

The produce operation of Leket is carried out in the Leket Logistics Center in Raanana. There are 105 employees and 37,000 volunteers including individuals, families, youth movements, the IDF, schools, tourists who have made volunteering at Leket part of their itinerary, and more than 100 companies which participate in all aspects of the food rescue programs. A group of teachers with their special needs students have been coming on a regular basis for the last four years and they work beautifully. There are young people who choose to volunteer in place of going into the military service as well as recipients of scholarships who must give a proscribed number of volunteer hours in order to be eligible for such a scholarship.

Besides working in the Logistics Center packing up food for distribution, volunteers may choose to go out into the field to pick fruits and vegetables, or they may prefer to work in the office. There are others who go out at night in their own cars to food courts and banquet halls to collect leftover hot food - refrigerated trucks crisscross the country collecting thousands of these surplus hot meals as well as also from IDF bases, hotels and corporate cafeterias. All this is then delivered to the many nonprofit partners.

The Raanana warehouse is located just beyond the industrial area close to Route 4 and one must travel a narrow bumpy gravel road in order to reach it. When we arrive at 9:30 am, many large containers filled to the brim with vegetables and fruit await us and we immediately begin filling bags or crates with the fresh produce. It is our job to check each item carefully and to separate what is in good condition from what is not usable; that which is not good is put aside and used as animal food. NOTHING is wasted.

Leket enjoys partnerships with a large number of farmers, packing houses, corporate cafeterias as well as the Kibbutz Movement. If a farmer has a surplus of produce after the harvest is over, rather than dig it under, he may call Leket, state where he is located and of what he has a surplus. The produce is checked for quality and very early the next morning a team of skilled workers will come and clear the entire field. This produce is then brought to the warehouse where volunteers will sort and pack it for delivery to the nonprofits for distribution ALL OVER THE COUNTRY with no discrimination whatsoever based on race, religion or ethnicity.

Packing celery into boxes
Inge sorting the carrots at Leket

Who are the recipients of all this rescued food? They are single mothers, the elderly, Holocaust survivors living in government housing, underprivileged students attending schools for youth at risk; they are Jews and Arabs, the poor and the needy who must sometimes decide between purchasing medicine or food. To help them, the Nutrition for Life Workshops teach recipients how to make healthy food choices. Additionally, there are parent-child workshops in low income communities in the north with plans for expansion to other parts of the country.

It has been estimated that 21% of our population lives in poverty and that almost one in three children goes hungry. To ease this situation, hot meals have been made available to needy school children as well as to Leket's Elderly Program which provides a hot nutritious lunch each day to 900 senior citizens at day care centers and public housing projects in seven cities. People eating together is the best solution to prevent loneliness and to restore dignity and security.

Orders from nonprofits are filled very carefully as requirements differ depending on to where the food is to be delivered. Leket is careful to work with nonprofits to find out what types of produce each community eats to ensure that all food will be accepted.

The produce we pack is as varied as are the employees and the volunteers - all manner of vegetables and citrus and other fruits - and, if we come early before the large groups arrive, we have our choice of what we would like to pack. It may be purple potatoes, very skinny carrots, huge radishes, green tomatoes, white or black carrots, tiny red beets and, of course, eggplants, cauliflower, potatoes - whatever happens to have been delivered that morning.

Volunteers and employees all work beautifully together. By the end of the morning session most of the containers will have been emptied and all the bags and crates filled ready to be loaded onto the Leket trucks for distribution. New containers are then brought and gotten ready for the next group of volunteers who come for the afternoon shift.

A special field in Binyamina has been purchased by Leket with a donation from Shalom Israel Asia Pacific, a Christian pro-Israel organization in Singapore; here high demand food is raised all year round in hot houses specifically for Israel's needy population.

I have been a Leket volunteer for over a year and have made marvelous friends. We come together each week and we thoroughly enjoy what we do. It gives us a grand feeling of doing something useful to ease the hunger and poverty which is so prevalent in our country.

It is a privilege to be a Leket volunteer!

NB Acknowledgment:This article was prepared with much assistance from Shira Wolf, Leket's Overseas PR and Marketing Coordinator. 

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