Leket Israel: Supplying Fresh Produce to Israel’s Evacuees

Leket Israel Produce Stand in hotelsAs a result of the current conflict, there are an estimated 250,000 displaced Israelis across the country, many of whom have been residing in hotels since October and will continue to do so indefinitely. Working with the Ministry of Health, Leket Israel recognized that these hotel residents were lacking consistent access to nutritious snacks. Although meals are provided by the hotels in communal dining halls, the evacuees have little or no access to cooking facilities or healthy snacks between meals. While food donations are plentiful, the donated items primarily consist of unhealthy items, which though harmless in the short term, can easily result in children forming a preference for unhealthy eating, leading to the development of diet-related diseases later in life.

In response, Leket has installed produce stands in the hotels, providing evacuees with a consistent supply of fresh fruit and vegetables, free of charge, which the organization purchases from Israeli growers. The benefits of this approach are far-reaching. First, the project instills positive nutrition habits in children, providing them with the best chance of a healthy future. Additionally, the availability of this produce enhances the general wellbeing and day-to-day functioning of the evacuees, whose lives have been uprooted. This is consistent with Leket’s mission, ensuring that population groups at high risk have free access to unprocessed food, free of sugar and saturated fats. The produce stands also give the evacuees a sense of being cared for at a time when they are at their most vulnerable. Finally, the program provides a source of income for Israeli farmers who have been impacted by the ongoing war and the consequent loss of produce markets. 

Currently, produce stands have been placed in eight major hotels throughout the country. Once a week, Leket drivers deliver a variety of produce to the hotels. The fresh produce is displayed in supermarket-like stands in the hotel lobbies. Evacuees are free to help themselves to fruit and vegetables as they wish. Leket liaises with the hotels to ascertain recipient numbers and determine demand for specific produce types. Initially, only vegetables that did not require cooking were supplied, however after learning that some evacuees had access to cooking facilities, Leket quickly ensured that items such as potatoes and onions were also included in the deliveries. Leket Israel Hotel Stands

One of the hotels that hosts a produce stand currently serves as a home to residents from Be’eri, a kibbutz that was decimated on October 7th, with numerous residents killed or kidnapped and homes destroyed.

Shimon, a resident of Be’eri, sought refuge together with his wife in the hotel after enduring a terrifying 24 hours holed up in their safe room until the IDF rescued them. Tragically, during the attack, his grandchildren who lived nearby faced their own ordeal. Hiding in their own safe room, the family was targeted, resulting in the heart-breaking loss of Shimon’s grandson and the capture of his granddaughter, who endured 53 days in captivity before her eventual release. Opting not to return to the hotel, Shimon’s daughter and granddaughter relocated to a more central location, seeking solace away from the memories of the attack.

Before the attacks, Shimon’s days on the kibbutz were spent tending to the orchards, growing various types of fruit. However, with the forced evacuation, the condition of the once-thriving orchards deteriorated, left to rot amidst the chaos. Through the efforts of nearby kibbutz residents and volunteers, the vegetation was revived, as those involved refused to let the devastation extinguish the spirit of resilience that defined their community.

Shimon explained that when he saw the picture of the fruit stand in the hotel lobby, he was sure that someone was sending a picture from a supermarket, as he could not believe that the beautiful produce was for them. “Having access to these wonderful fruit and vegetables will make a huge difference for the residents,” shares Shimon. “Not only does it give us a healthy option, but it also allows us to eat it on our own schedules.”

Though the future of Be’eri remains uncertain, Shimon is determined to return home. “Of course, I plan to return to the kibbutz,” says Shimon. “My house may have burned down, but it’s still my home. We plan to rebuild and return when it’s safe. We’re looking toward the future.”

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