Daily Israel Report

A Volunteer in a Million

Many people enjoy volunteering by helping less fortunate. Others pledge monetary donations. And then there are those who combine the two.
By Tami Benmayer
First Publish: 12/12/2012, 2:33 PM

Meir Panim's Dan Koweity
Meir Panim's Dan Koweity
Israel news photo: Meir Panmim

Supporting a charity can be done in myriad ways. Many people enjoy volunteering their time attending to the needs of the less fortunate, and others pledge monetary donations which enable organizations to function.

And then there are those who combine the two by volunteering their time in order to encourage others to donate. Dan Koweity, who has spent the last seven years petitioning for the Israeli outreach social service organization Meir Panim, is one of these unique individuals.  

Born in Israel, Koweity moved to the United States at the age of three but continued to retain a strong attachment to the country of his birth.

“I’ve always been passionate about Israel and cared about the welfare of its citizens,” he comments. “In particular, the plight of poor people has always bothered me.”

When one day in 2005, he received a fundraising appeal in the mail from Meir Panim, Koweity felt compelled to take action. “It shocked me to learn that so many Israelis are living beneath the poverty line, and that thousands of families lack basic needs such as food and clothes,” he explains. This year, an estimated 1.8 million are defined as living under the line of poverty.

“I wanted to do more than just make a one-time donation and actually help out on a frequent basis. So I arranged a meeting with someone at the ‘US Friends of Meir Panim’ and the rest, as they say is history.”

For the last seven years, Koweity, who works full time, has spent countless hours distributing Meir Panim charity boxes to stores, restaurants, and supermarkets across Long Island and Queens. He then collects them when they’re full, replaces them with empty ones, and sends the funds to the organization’s head office.

Although it sounds simple enough, it takes a lot of time and energy to keep on top of the 50 boxes for which he’s responsible.

And the efforts do not stop there. “Once I started talking to people about what I do and about why Meir Panim is so important, it began to peak people’s interest,” continues Koweity. “More than just collecting a few coins in the charity box, I started receiving checks, and some individuals now even donate on a regular basis. In fact, one person I initially met through work and then started talking to about the charity, now supports the Tiberias branch of Meir Panim almost single-handedly.”

Each time Koweity visits Israel, he makes sure to spend time at the various branches of Meir Panim across the country so that he can see for himself where the funds are actually being directed.

“The first time I came to Israel after I started fundraising, I visited the Sderot, Tiberias and Jerusalem centers, and I have to say that it was the best experience of my life,” Koweity states in earnest.

“I volunteered as a waiter at the free restaurants and interacted with the guests as I served them their food. I saw first-hand how they weren’t really soup kitchens at all but a place where people feel like people. Instead of standing in line and feeling degraded, guests are served at tables with a smile and some kind words, making them feel dignified and human.”

In the midst of the Hanukkah holiday, Koweity is hopeful that he’ll find generous donations in all his charity boxes.

But more than this, he hopes that his efforts will raise awareness among Jews abroad about poverty in Israel, and stimulate people to help. “The kind of poverty that I saw made me realize that I can’t just sit back and do nothing. Meir Panim has become a real passion in my life and I want others to feel its importance too.”

Other services Meir Panim provides include: meals-on-wheels for the homebound; meals for children in schools; vocational training for the unemployed; youth clubs for at-risk children; and clothing, furniture and home appliances for the needy.