The monthly update for our most dedicated supporters from Gidi Kroch
Rescuing Meals from IDF Bases to Assist Israel’s Impoverished
In 2018, Leket Israel’s meal rescue project collected 510,000 meals from the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), representing 23% of the total output of the nationwide project. Today, about 2,000 meals a day are collected from 42 active bases.
Over the years, recognizing the IDF’s great potential as a supplier to the project, the Leket Israel staff attempted to make inroads at various individual IDF bases, as well as through lobbying efforts targeting IDF officials, the Ministry of Defense and even the IDF’s Chief Comptroller. These efforts, however, did not meet with any broad success. Then, about five years ago, I appeared on a TV segment right before Passover, with Miki Haimovich, a well-known and respected TV anchor in Israel (and now a new MK). In the segment, I discussed Leket Israel’s efforts to rescue surplus food and mentioned the potential of the IDF as a supplier, but that the IDF did not officially sanction the donation of their surplus food – despite the overwhelming consensus of large scale waste occurring in that sector. Shortly after the segment aired and only a few days before Passover, the IDF called to say that they were now willing to donate its surplus food, but insisted that we show up for a meeting the next day. To ensure this did not become a lost opportunity, Leket Israel mobilized its resources, showing up the next day for the meeting and started collecting the food a day later.
As a result of Leket Israel proving its responsiveness and expertise in food rescue, the Knesset Defense Committee, led by Eitan Cabel from the Labor Party, officially directed the IDF to open up all bases to Leket Israel for food rescue. Yet, despite this broad sanction which opened the door to potential rescue efforts at all of the IDF’s bases around the country, kitchen operations vary from base to base. Each location operates with their own unique idiosyncrasies. For example, some work through caterers and some maintain their own cooks. To ensure success, support and commitment of the local kitchen or catering staff and a Base Logistics Officer is needed. Once analyzed for feasibility, and if found to be suitable, each base must also apply to receive permits for Leket Israel’s entry and collection activities. Suitable locations must also be provided with training in food safety and handling procedures.
After the IDF officially sanctioned Leket Israel’s initiative, Leket Israel now had to report to the IDF Logistics Department on quantities of food collected from the various bases. This however caused an unintended consequence of the bases being put under scrutiny with regard to the levels of food waste now being donated to Leket Israel. As a result of bases documenting significant levels of waste in their food procurement and serving activities on their bases, the IDF Logistics Department began reprimanding them for their food waste. This created a catch-22 scenario where IDF bases willing to partner with Leket Israel were reprimanded while those that chose not to partner, were left unscathed. As a result, many of the existing bases ceased work with Leket Israel, and others refused to join the project for fear of facing the prospect of rebuke. Despite all the rules and requirements that exist for bases to ensure everyone who works or lives on the base (plus extra for visitors, and even if not all those people will be on the base that day) have a meal ready and prepared for them daily, no one likes to condone the apparent surplus, or waste, this creates daily. Therefore, Leket Israel had to find a way to get the bases to continue to donate food without the negative perception that high levels of waste engenders. The resolution to this issue was additional discussions with IDF high ranking officers that were open and receptive to create the required changes. In Israeli society, there seems to be broad consensus that the IDF wastes a lot of money, and particularly on food to ensure everyone has the opportunity to be fed adequately. The challenge therefore, has been to convince them that even though they do create a lot of waste, they can show the public that the condoned surplus is being directed to the weaker segments of society and that the IDF is conscious of, and controlling the food surplus it creates. By donating the surplus food, the IDF shows the public that they care.
One of the highest ranking officers in the IDF’s Logistics Department, in charge of the Leket Israel food rescue program, decided to take up the charge – seeking to help ensure the project’s success. In his first week on the job, the project was so important to him that he personally visited Leket Israel’s Operations Center and attended two meetings with the staff. To Leket Israel’s surprise and satisfaction, it was later found out that he was already an existing donor and supporter of Leket Israel’s work.
Despite the ongoing challenges involved in working with government agencies, Leket Israel believes it is making significant progress in this sector as evidenced by its successful collaboration with 42 IDF bases across Israel. In fact, Leket Israel’s constantly expanding and evolving partnership with the IDF is viewed in the global foodbanking industry as a national model, perhaps unlike any in the world that collects surplus food donations from its country’s armed services.
Potential exists to further expand the program to additional bases, but Leket Israel has reached a point where its logistical resources are currently being utilized to capacity. Significant interest in joining the project continues to be expressed from additional bases, including repeated requests made by bases in the Golan Heights. Were the necessary funding secured to target the Golan region, Leket Israel would welcome the opportunity to expand collection efforts in the north of the country by utilizing those regional bases as an anchor for a food collection route. In the meantime, the organization is committed to maintaining its active and successful model partnership with 42 bases located in the central and southern part of the state.
Thanks to the broad partnership with the IDF, Leket Israel is preventing hundreds of thousands of healthy surplus meals from being dumped in landfills, while assisting Israel’s most vulnerable.