Home to ethnicities and religious groups from all over the globe, Israel also reflects the diverse culinary traditions that define contemporary life. And within that diversity comes individual tastes and preferences often not shared among the broader population. Colel Chabad, as Israel’s longest running social services organization since 1788, provides tens of thousands of meals each month to the country’s needy via home-delivered packages and meals, and is responding to that understanding with carefully designed packages that respond to individual cultural and ethnic preferences.
This new approach is part of the organization’s Food Security Initiative in partnership with the Ministry of Welfare, designed not just to provide food handouts but to give recipient families the tools and confidence to get beyond the cycle of poverty. Much of this food packaging is carried out in the Pantry Packers facility operated by Colel Chabad in a warehouse in the Talpiyot section of Jerusalem. Staffed by volunteers, including many tourists looking to inject a charitable dimension to their Israel itineraries, Pantry Packers prepares packages of dry goods to be included in the boxes delivered to homes all across Israel.
As a result of the new initiative, packages are carefully designed to ensure they are both nutritious but also enjoyed by the recipients—based on their specific cultural backgrounds. “We know that Ethiopian families, for example, representing a sizable percentage of our beneficiaries, have very different tastes than other populations and we need to respond to those tastes,” says Rabbi Menachem Traxler, Director of Pantry Packers. “We therefore worked with the community to identity the products they use most in their homes, and now we are able to give them the ingredients and flavors they are most familiar with, those that often come with a higher price tag because of their specialty.”
Included in the raw ingredients packages delivered to their homes are grains and dried beans, as well as the traditional Ethiopian green coffee that is unique to the community. “We know that part of getting people to a level of self-sufficiency and economic independence is to ensure that they aren’t just being given something, but that they are being thought of,” Rabbi Traxler says. “The feedback that we get from this initiative is a sense that people understand that they are really being cared for and that gives them a feeling of hope and confidence to want to build better lives for themselves.”
These boxes are just one part of the ramped-up efforts by Colel Chabad for the holiday season.
Additional boxes filled with everything from rice and beans to chicken and wine are delivered to families in 48 municipalities around the country to help those who are struggling to cover the extra holiday expenses.
Pre-filled debit cards are provided to families in the National Food Security Program to allow for smart purchases in participating supermarkets around the country. In partnership with Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein and the IFCJ, an additional 300 shekels are being added to the cards to enhance the holiday. The Welfare Ministry and Colel Chabad can sleep well knowing that these purchases aren’t being wasted on alcohol or cigarettes since this ‘smart credit card’ blocks those purchases from the payment.
“Knowing that some of the financial burden of the holidays has been taken off my shoulders allows our family to really enjoy the time together,” said a mother from Haifa, part of the National Food Security Program. “Everyone deserves to have food on the table and a festive meal to celebrate the chagim.”
“As we get into the full swing of the ‘holiday season’, we want all of these families to know that they are not forgotten,” said Rabbi Sholom Duchman, director of Colel Chabad. “We strive to give them the feeling of confidence that with the start of the new year, their futures can and will be brighter. By doing so we hope and pray that we will all merit a happy, healthy and successful new year.”