This July, I decided to volunteer at Leket Israel, a leading food rescue organization that not only brought me face-to-face with the issue of food waste and insecurity, but also introduced me to the power of community-led solutions. Over the course of a week, I, along with four other people my age from NY to the UK, found ourselves immersed in Leket’s mission to rescue food.
My first day at Leket Israel commenced with an early morning start. We started off the day by joining one of their refrigerated trucks on its daily rounds, offering a firsthand view of Leket’s food rescue operations.
As the truck was unloaded, each box was filled with fresh produce, which I would later find out was the result of hard work on the fields and generous donations of surplus food. The thought that these boxes would soon nourish families and individuals across Israel was an impactful realization. I watched as heaps of food, deemed not “beautiful” enough by supermarket standards but perfectly edible, were rescued from becoming waste. The sizable carrots, the not-so-round tomatoes – I realized that food, like people, is not defined by its exterior.
I had the opportunity to ride in the truck myself, visiting the various locations across Israel that the boxes of fresh, rescued produce were being distributed to. Every time the truck stopped, all five of us got out and were met with eager volunteers who were there to package the vegetables and fruit into plastic bags to be distributed to those in need. As we assisted them, I learned that each of the bags we were packing would be sent off for delivery to Leket’s nonprofit organization (NPO) partners, such as battered women’s shelters and soup kitchens, providing food to the elderly, single parent families, youth and risk, and more.
This gave me a direct perspective on the impact that Leket has on these NPOs. By providing fresh food, an essential resource, the NPOs’ limited funds can be redirected to be used for other critical purposes to help those in need.
In the afternoon, we were given a tour of the Leket Israel Logistics Center. I observed how the Leket staff sorts the rescued produce from the fields into orders before sending them out to the nonprofits. I toured the massive storage facilities for the produce, including 4 refrigeration rooms. I also learned how Leket manages to operate solely off donations. It was remarkable to realize that this operation relied heavily on the generosity of individuals, foundations, and organizations from across the world.
We then joined other volunteers at the Logistics Center, sorting and packing these “misfit” fruit and vegetables. We sorted through cucumbers, throwing the ones that were cut open into a blue box that would be given to animals as they were inedible for humans, and keeping the ones that were in pristine condition and placing them in carts.
At the end of my first day, I was left with a sense of purpose as I was becoming a part of something much larger than myself, something that would make a positive impact on people’s lives.
On my second day, we returned to Leket’s Logistics Center in Gan Haim, but this time with 20 or so other volunteers. We were confronted with mountains of fresh, rescued potatoes. Our task was to sort, pack and prepare them for distribution. We all worked together, intent on our mission. As each bag was filled and sealed, I understood the importance of what we were all doing together: every potato packed was a step towards curbing hunger for someone in need. By the end of the two hours, we had packed 3,100 pounds of potatoes, which was enough to feed 300 families. This astounding number made me realize the significant impact of the collective effort of all the volunteers present.
For lunch, we were lucky enough to get a chance to sit down with Joseph Gitler, the Founder and Chairman of Leket Israel. He shared his inspiring journey of establishing Leket, explaining how he had noticed the food waste in Israel after moving from New York, and thus has started Leket Israel one step at a time, first by calling organizations and farms with surplus food and driving to distribute them across Israel himself. His passion and dedication to the cause made me realize the potential one person’s vision can have in changing the course of countless lives.
In the afternoon, we took the bus to a place where we could see the impact of our work manifest in real time: at the Herzliya Arena Mall (Central Israel). We were taken to a room where I witnessed dozens of volunteers creating Shabbat packages for Holocaust survivors. There were people ranging from all ages, and I was once again hit by the tremendous impact the volunteers have on these types of organizations, letting them function effectively. We were then given candles to pack in twos and put in rectangular plastic bags. By the end, we had filled up two boxes of these.
This second day presented me with the tangible impacts of our efforts and the reality of the various lives we were touching. It was a very impactful experience, and it reinforced the importance of the work Leket does.
On day three, we were picked up by the bus and headed to the Social Supermarket in Kfar Saba, another nonprofit that receives produce from Leket. The concept was simple, but remarkable: individuals with limited resources could enter the market, choose what they needed, and pay what they could in return. It wasn’t just about the exchange of goods, but about empowering people, providing them with the chance to shop like anyone else, yet in a way that benefited them: a very valued norm in Israel. This visit allowed me once again to see how Leket’s impact extended beyond simple food distribution to fostering a sense of community.
Next, we took the bus to another nonprofit organization to deliver food for various families in need. This task was humbling, as we visited firsthand the homes of the people who received this food, giving it to them directly. Each delivery was met with heartfelt gratitude coming from people of all ages. In one instance, there was a little boy who opened the door. Another time, there was an elderly woman who only spoke Hebrew and gave us a coin to show her gratitude. This really imprinted on me the stark reality of food insecurity that many face daily, and the transformative difference Leket makes in these peoples’ lives.
Finally, in the afternoon, our final destination was a farm that collaborated with Leket, donating their surplus produce. The farmer explained the decision-making process behind whether produce was sent to supermarkets or not, and how it was all based on the beauty of the vegetables, as we had already learned, but also the demand. For example, if there are eggplants that the farmers planted, but the demand is low, the farm is not going to go through the whole process of selling the eggplants to supermarkets, as it costs a lot of money that they wouldn’t see a return on. The farmer shared that before Leket was created, he would throw out his excess produce, which was a shame for him as a farmer, who had gone through all the efforts of cropping them. Now, he has the chance to donate his produce to Leket straight away, thus not wasting food nor money. He was extremely touched that we, as students, had decided to take the time out of our summer to come, thus making it a very heartwarming experience.
On day four, we set out for a unique experience: a day at Leket’s farm in Rishon Lezion in Central Israel. Our task was simple: to harvest kohlrabi (a task that allowed us to be directly involved in the collection of food that would soon find its way into the homes of hungry Israelis across Israel.
As we arrived at the farm, the sight of rows upon rows of crops was amazing. Soon after, we met with the staff members who would oversee our time at the farm, as well as another family who had come to volunteered. As a group, we were introduced to Leket’s mission once more, and given the instructions on how to harvest the kohlrabi.
We started heading down towards the crops, picking up buckets along the way where we would place the harvested kohlrabi. The process of twisting, pulling, and removing the roots and leaves was repeated and echoed across the farm, and gave me a newfound appreciation for the effort behind each meal that is often taken for granted.
As we worked, we could see the tangible result of our efforts: the buckets filling up with fresh kohlrabi. It was a physically demanding task, especially working with the head of the kohlrabi, but the thought of its direct impact powered us throughout.
This day was a clear demonstration of how every bit of effort could contribute to reducing food waste and hunger.
Day five at Leket began with a very meaningful experience: volunteering at a local soup kitchen where Leket’s donated produce transformed into hot, nutritious meals. It was here that the magnitude of Leket’s work truly sank it. It wasn’t just about the food collection and distribution, but the human impact of it all.
The morning was spent in an array of activities. We prepared and packed hot meals, plating heaping portions of rice, vegetables, and chicken. The gratitude we received from the kitchen staff was touching. They showed us that our efforts were more than just a helping hand – they were a testament to the power of community and generosity. The manager of the soup kitchen pulled us aside to show her appreciation. She gave us food, and showed us a touching moment she had experienced during her time working there. She shared an album showcasing a young woman, an orphan, whose wedding she had helped plan at the soup kitchen. The happiness that radiated from the bride’s face was reflected in the manager’s face, and it showed me the community that Leket is embedded within.
Afterwards, we gathered outside and witnessed people waiting patiently for their food. I was touched to see all these people, and realized the role I had played in making sure they had food on their plates by the end of the day. It was a profound and moving experience that heightened my appreciation for Leket’s mission and my own good fortune.
In the afternoon, we went back to Leket’s Logistics Center, sorting an array of produce ranging from cucumbers to radishes. By the end of our session, it amounted to more than four tons of saved food, again hitting me that this was the daily difference that Leket and their volunteers make.
Day six marked the final day of our volunteering journey with Leket. We returned once more to the farm for another round of harvest picking, this time with a group of students from the US and Canada.
Despite the physical exertion, the mood was light and filled with a sense of satisfaction. As we filled crates with kohlrabi, I reflected on my journey and the impact we had made.
Returning to Ra’anana in the afternoon, we had some time for final reflections. The past week had been filled with new experiences and lessons, each day adding to our understanding and appreciation of Leket and its incredible mission. We had seen firsthand the difference our efforts could make and had been a part of something much bigger than ourselves.
As we said our goodbyes, we did so with a sense of accomplishment and gratitude. Gratitude for the experience, the lessons learned, and the people we had met. We had not only given our time and effort, but had received so much more in return – a renewed sense of purpose, a deeper understanding of community and charity, and memories that would last a lifetime.