The National Food Security Initiative operated by Eshel Chabad, the food distribution arm of Colel Chabad in Israel, provides monthly support to over 32,000 Israeli families facing financial challenges resulting in insufficient access to food supplies.
The flagship program of the State of Israel is funded by the national government and Israel’s Ministry of Welfare, with the support of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ) under the leadership of Yael Eckstein. In order to better understand the program’s impact on families and addressing Israel’s fight on poverty, organizers of the project hosted senior officials from Israel’s Ministry of Welfare for a visit to the Bnei Brak and Jerusalem municipalities.
Launched in 2017, the National Food Security Project works in cooperation with 220 local municipalities, implemented by local food security coordinators that are in direct contact with the families and social workers on the local welfare levels.
The senior delegation consisted of the Ministry’s Director General Yinon Aharoni and Deputy Director General Moshe Lavon, who were accompanied by senior officials from the Ministry of Finance and all the relevant senior department heads. They all freed up time from their busy schedules for the visit to Jerusalem and Bnei Brak, with the goal of seeing first-hand and learning about the operations with the goal of better strategizing the continued implementation of the National Food Security Project.
Ms. Hadas Greenwald, who manages the Otzma Housing Center in Bnei Brak says the program has been particularly important for residents of Israel’s mostly densely-populated city – and one of the country’s poorest.
“We have invested in very targeted surveys of every family for the purposes of this Food Security Program. We view this program as a tool to be able to assist families in areas beyond just nutrition and get them on the road to escape the downward cycle of poverty,” she said.
Not a dry eye could be found when the group was exposed to the stories of two families that are beneficiaries of the program. The representatives discussed how meaningful the support has been for their families and that the comprehensive and professional approach has been critical for enabling them to face their personal challenges and get up each day to work to overcome them.
One single mother of five children explained, “Food is family and before this program came into our lives I truly didn’t feel like I had the strength to raise my children. How can one possibly bring up kids when there is no food around?! Since starting with the program and the support I receive, I feel like I am again a mother and there is again a sense of family.”
Prof. Roni Strier, Chair of the National Food Security Council, presented the professional perspective and discussed his conclusions on how the Initiative has such a significant impact on the families, calling for its further expansion. Bnei Brak Deputy Mayor Rabbi Yehoshua Mandel, who also holds the welfare portfolio in the municipality, thanked the visitors and added that even though the city is home to many charitable organizations and initiatives, he believes that the approach advanced by the Food Security Initiative is the best and most professionally managed program and treats recipients with the most dignity.
Upon their visit to Jerusalem, Director of the Municipality’s Welfare Branch Ms. Yael Gabbay presented up-to-date data regarding financial gaps between the demographic groups in the capital and how her office is working to respond to the many different needs. “Our familiarity with Eshel Chabad is one that goes back many years and I always know that with them I have someone to count on both in more routine times as well as during the corona crisis.”
The Ministry’s Director General, Mr. Yinon Aharoni, summarized the visit by speaking of how personally impressed he was with the program and the services it provides to respond to a critical need. “The issue of Food Security is atop the list of objectives of the Ministry and the Minister, and we are committed to intensively working to see how we can expand it as needed.”
He also thanked all the parties involved, and in particular the Colel Chabad management led by Israel Director Rabbi Mendy Blau for prioritizing this issue for many years.
“Our goal with this and all of our projects is to work with local partners on the ground in the specific areas, allowing us to maximize the impact of every donation,” said Rabbi Sholom Duchman, Director of Colel Chabad, Israel’s longest-running social services organization founded by the Alter Rebbe of Lubavich in 1788. “Every family in need deserves to have access to basic necessities as well as sense of dignity in the working to build a better future for themselves and their families.”