First developed by now-President of Israel Isaac Herzog during his tenure as Minister of Welfare, the National Food Security Initiative pilot program was designed to implement a variety of programs aimed at combating poverty by strengthening the ability of individuals and families to overcome their financial challenges.
Rather than solely distribute handouts, the program is closely regulated to ensure the funds are being utilized in a way that encourage the recipients to escape a downward cycle of poverty.
In a monumental agreement signed this week by Welfare Minister Meir Cohen (Blue and White), the Israeli government be officially implementing the program and accounting for 72 percent of the total 155 million shekel annual budget, with the remainder coming from donor support raised by Colel Chabad, Keren LeYididut, The Blavatnik Food Bank, individuals and partner organizations.
Jerusalem-based Colel Chabad, as the longest continuously-running charitable organization in the country, in operation since 1788, and the Blavatnik Food Bank which runs the food services of the organization, have been selected to oversee the expansion of the national program.
“At a time when so many in Israel continue to suffer from financial challenges which only intensified over the course of the pandemic, we are deeply encouraged that the Israeli government has recognized this initiative as a budgetary priority,” says Rabbi Sholom Duchman, Director of Colel Chabad. “We welcome this decision with a sense of both pride in our charitable achievements but more so a deep responsibility for the task that lies ahead.”
The government funding, which is designed to allow for a 300 million shekel budget per year, will be distributed among the 237 local municipalities with representation from all demographics, ethnicities and religions that make up Israel’s diverse population. The nearly-tripled increase in allocation will allow the program to expand from 11,800 families currently supported on a monthly basis to 30,000. In addition to 500 shekel worth of specific food goods that families receive directly each month, beneficiaries are encouraged to participate in courses in budget management and nutrition so that they learn how to best use the funds and foods provided to them as well as tools to become financially independent.
“Ensuring basic food security is a fundamental value for developing welfare policy with the goal of reducing gaps in Israeli society,” said Minister of Welfare Meir Cohen. “By increasing the budget and resources of this national initiative, we will be able to advance responsible welfare policy that will encourage social accountability towards that goal of a society with greater equality within the greater population.”
“We are proud to be partners in this historic national food program, where the government of Israel has taken the lead to ensure everyone will have food on their table and babies will have formula,” said Yael Eckstein, President and CEO of Keren LeYididut. “Mendy Blau of Colel Chabad approached us nearly 15 years ago with the dream of starting a national food program in Israel, as almost all Western countries have. Today, Minister of Welfare Meir Cohen made that dream a reality, paving the way for tens for thousands of poor families to have food, support, and hope.”
As the most shoplifted item in Israel due to need, for the first time, the program will also be distributing baby formula to 3,100 young mothers who need help in feeding their infants every month.
“The government recognizes that food insecurity is no longer a problem that can be left to the private sector but is truly an issue of national interest that if properly addressed can change the very future of this country,” explained Rabbi Duchman. “The vision of this program, and the partnership with the government, is to create a sustainable model to give people who deserve support what they need, but most importantly to build a framework where over time the numbers of beneficiaries will go down and the number of financially independent families can go up.”
“We're excited to able to continue to service the Israeli public through the National Food Security Initiative which is actively succeeding in taking Israeli families out of the downward cycle of poverty,” Rabbi Mendy Blau, Israel Director of Colel Chabad said. “We commend the government for significantly expanding their investment in the program and ensuring it can now reach municipalities all across the country. We particularly appreciate that infant formula will now be included in the program for the many needy families who count on it for their children's nutrition.”
“I want to thank Welfare Minister Meir Cohen and the Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman (Yisrael Beytenu), who positioned this program as a national priority in recognizing it as a key measure to help families who are facing daily challenges from gross under-nutrition. We are also deeply thankful to Ms. Yael Eckstein and the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews who has been our partner in this process for many years and whose support will remain critical in enabling us to address the needs of needy families all over the country.”