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The future begins with a sandwich

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Good nutrition is vital in helping children maximize their potential. With the new school year just beginning, so is Leket Israel’s Sandwiches for Kids project, now in its 8th year. Read on for a few personal accounts from the more than 8,000 underprivileged kids served each day by the project from 125 schools in 40 cities throughout Israel.

Food for all: The future begins with a sandwich

Like their peers everywhere, Yaara, David, Lital and Oz (all pseudonyms), students of the Ort High School in a small town in the north of Israel, dream of the future. Yaara, who asserts that “knowledge is power” intends to study and later practice either law or psychology; David, a determined young man, is planning a career in the IDF’s Border Patrol that will make his mother proud; Lital, whose talents in the beauty arena are already in demand among the town’s young brides, hopes to open her own salon one day; and Oz, the school’s computer whiz, who fixes all PCs on the premises, sees his future in the cyber world. But, as natural as these dreams may seem, having such plans for the future is a totally new experience for these youngsters – quite inconceivable only two or three years ago.

I was hungry, so I left…”

“This is a school for at-risk populations, a last stop before the point of no return,” says school principal Eli, a recipient of the Ort chain’s Outstanding Principal Award, who is no less than a true father to his students. “Before they come here, our kids are busy surviving. Just getting safely to the end of the day takes up all their strength and imagination. They have no room for prospects or aspirations beyond the next meal, and times ahead seem very far away and unattainable. It’s our job to change all this. To help our students reclaim the birthright of every young person: his or her future.” And according to Eli, without Leket’s Sandwiches for Kids program, his job, almost incomprehensibly difficult as it is, would have been impossible.

“When I first came here, we had no sandwiches, and I had great difficulty keeping the kids in school,” he recalls. “At 10 o’clock or so, during recess, they’d just climb over the fence and vanish. Later they’d say: ‘I was hungry, so I left.’ What could I say? I didn’t know what to do.”

The pull power of a sandwich

Today, thanks to the Leket project, the kids at Eli’s school get two healthful sandwiches a day: one for breakfast, with white or yellow cheese and the vegetables of their choice, and later another one for lunch, with humus, tuna or pastrami and again, assorted vegetables. Then, with a stomach that’s no longer grumbling, they can study, laying the essential foundations for a more promising future.

“My mother is a single mom, working very hard to make ends meet,” says Lital. “She leaves for work at 5:00 a.m., and doesn’t have time to make us sandwiches. So she is very pleased to know that I’ll be getting my breakfast at school. It’s a load off her mind, and mine too. The sandwiches, made to my liking, make me feel pampered for once…” For Yaara, whose parents are both bedridden – her mother with cancer and her father following a serious accident and repeated surgery – the sandwiches at school are quite critical. “I’m the eldest of four children, and I do my best to take care of my sister and brothers,” she says. “Sometimes, when there are sandwiches or even just buns left over at school, I take them home to my family. This bit of extra food makes them very happy.”

Like his classmate Yaara, David also knows what it means to go to bed hungry. “When I wake up in the morning, just knowing I have a sandwich waiting for me at school makes me jump out of bed. There’s no way I’m going to miss school!” he declares, and his friend Oz adds from his own experience: “You can’t study when you’re hungry, you just think of food all day. Without the sandwiches, you have no motivation. You might as well sleep till noon.”

And David, a highly intelligent youngster with an engaging philosophical bent, sums it up for all of them: “A sandwich may seem like such a small, unimportant thing. But without this small thing, so many of us would fall. These sandwiches, and all the love and care that come with them, are the foundation for everything else. They give us our chance, a new start in life. For us, the future begins with a sandwich.”

“The sandwiches are very very significant for our students,” affirms Principal Eli. “Even when a kid is suspended for misbehavior, he or she often comes to the gate at sandwich-time, asking for their sandwich. Do we give it to them? Of course we do. How can you say no to a hungry child?”

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