Leket Israel includes the 2010 merger of two former food bank organizations; Table to Table which was founded in 2003 to rescue and redeliver surplus food that would otherwise be discarded to people in need and Leket Israel, The National Food Bank which was founded in 2007. Leket Israel, The National Food Bank serves as Israel’s leading food rescue and redistribution network, actively working to alleviate nutritional insecurity in Israel through its many projects. With a task force of volunteers and staff members, over 220 tons of food per week is transferred to 190 nonprofit partners including soup kitchens, homeless shelters, senior centers and other social service organizations around Israel; reaching 140,000 needy people on a weekly basis. As an umbrella organization for food agencies nationwide, Leket Israel also offers nutrition education, cooperative purchasing, food safety, and capacity building projects designed to improve professional standards amongst its NPO partners.
Leket Israel Food Distribution Programs include: Meal Rescue- collects and redistributes approximately 13,000 hot meals and 1,800 loaves of bread per week from over 200 catering halls, restaurants, corporate cafeterias and bakeries; Project Leket (Gleaning)- rescues 154 tons of produce weekly from 450 farmers throughout the country along with Leket Israel’s first farming initiative- cultivating vegetables to better supplement the need for nutritious vegetables. Project Leket was inspired by the Bible, which states: "When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be left for the stranger, the orphan, and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all your undertakings." (Deuteronomy 24:19); The Sandwich for School Kids Project- provides 7,800 volunteer prepared sandwiches daily to disadvantaged school children in over 100 schools throughout Israel; Manufactured Food- Rescuing a weekly average of 22 tons of dairy products, baked, dried and frozen goods from 25 corporate partners (such as Supersol, Angel Bakeries and Tara Dairy) who donate tens of thousands of perishable food items nearing their expiry dates and manufactured goods that were overproduced, packaged incorrectly, or cannot be sold commercially. Leket Israel Projects for Nonprofit Partners include: Purchasing Cooperative for Nonprofits- providing NPO’s savings up to 25% off their food budget; The Nutrition Education Program- through hands-on workshops, Leket Israel’s nutritionist delivers seminars for proper nutrition and tools to maintain a well-balanced diet on a limited budget; Capacity Building for Nonprofits- ensuring Leket Israel’s nonprofit partners adhere to standards such as proper food handling methods via assessment and reports for recommendations.
The concept of Leket or "gleanings" derives from the Torah, (Lev. 19:9 and Lev. 23:22), which specifies that ears of grain that fall from the reaper's hand or the sickle while being gathered during the harvest must be left for the poor (along with other agricultural gifts to the poor, as specified in the Torah and elaborated upon in tractate Pe'ah of the Talmud).
"I think that at a very basic level, it's a very Jewish value to be appalled by food waste," says Joseph Gitler, founder and director of Leket Israel. Some farmers find it unprofitable to harvest all their produce while others cannot pick their entire crop before it begins to rot. In both cases, tens of thousands of tons of fresh fruits and vegetables are wasted each year. Israeli farmers invite Leket Israel to harvest their fields and to give the produce to needy people around the country. More than 40,000 volunteers took part in Project Leket in 2011. In addition, 20 Arab women were employed with full wages and benefits to assist in the picking. Through its activities, Leket Israel promotes the idea of peaceful co-existence. "We had an organization that had 25 employees, all Jewish, and suddenly, we have 20 Israeli-Arab employees, and it’s been a very positive experience," says Gitler.
Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon allowed Leket Israel volunteers to pick oranges from his 15-dunam orchard in Ramot HaShavim near Kfar Saba. He was approached by the organization after one of its scouts spotted the unharvested fruit.
Researchers have found that more than one-third of Israeli children live below the poverty line. Many children attend school without eating a nourishing breakfast or bringing lunch from home. In 2006, Hands on Tzedakah, a public charity based in Boca Raton, Florida, approached Leket Israel to create a program to provide school children with a minimum of one healthy meal per day. Leket Israel volunteers prepare and deliver more than 4,500 mid-morning meals to students at 70 schools around Israel. Each school day, the children receive a freshly baked roll filled with hummus, cream cheese, yellow cheese or tuna, and a fresh fruit or vegetable. "This is the kind of program that builds and brings together all segments of the community," according to Shimon Pepper, executive director of the Rockland County, New York Jewish Federation.
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