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Joseph Gitler
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How a solo operation in my driveway became Israel’s National Food Bank

For 20 years, Leket Israel has fed those in need - breaking the cycle of poverty and preventing massive waste. It's win-win!
Leket Israel feeds those in need. (Amir Yakoby, courtesy Leket Israel)
Leket Israel feeds those in need. (Amir Yakoby, courtesy Leket Israel)

The journey of Leket Israel began 20 years ago today. What started as a one-man volunteer operation in my driveway, has, over the last 20 years, become the National Food Bank of Israel and Israel’s leading food rescue organization, feeding 234,000+ people weekly.

Joseph Gitler, founder and chair of Leket Israel. (courtesy)

When I embarked on this project in March of 2003, I could not have predicted its rapid and extensive growth. During my initial conversations with catering halls, I expected to be met with hesitation and questions about legalities and liabilities but instead what I found was people who wanted to help. Every person I spoke to asked me the same questions: “Where were you yesterday?” and “When can you come?”

Over the past 20 years, Leket Israel has continued to face unique challenges and obstacles and each one was met head on with the recipients at the forefront of every decision. What is best for the vulnerable populations in Israel?

It is this thinking that led us to grow from refrigerators in my driveway to an old, converted chicken coop, and then a larger distribution center in Ra’anana, and eventually to our Logistics Center in Gan Haim. The current location has a refrigeration capacity of 32,000 square feet, which enabled us to rescue 26,500 tons of fruit and vegetables in 2022.

It is for the benefit of the recipients that Leket Israel’s primary focus is on nutrition. If someone in need receives their only meal of the day through Leket Israel, it is our duty to ensure that it is nutritious. It is for this reason that we only distribute 100% healthy food and provide nutrition education workshops for disadvantaged populations. This is done in collaboration with our nonprofit partners and local municipalities throughout the country.

Leket’s efficient and competent management enabled a quick turnaround after an electrical fire in 2014, which consumed the entire Logistics Center building. With the knowledge that many people were depending upon Leket Israel’s support, we moved to a temporary location not too far away in Ramot Hashavim and were back up and running within three days.

(Leket Israel)

Additionally, in 2014, two days before the beginning of Passover, following a news item by Miki Haimovitch on food waste in Israel, the IDF General Staff of 20 senior officers presented to Leket Israel on the staggering amount of food being thrown away and asked for assistance. Despite the proximity to the holiday, Leket Israel immediately began to rescue surplus meals from IDF army bases and to deliver those meals in time for Passover. To this day, the IDF remains Leket Israel’s largest cooked food donor.

In 2020, when COVID-19 began to spread, and the cooked food sources dried up overnight, in a dramatic departure from our normal operations, Leket began partnering with caterers and started a meal purchase program providing direct service delivery to housebound elderly.

An elderly man receives cooked food from Leket Israel NPO partner. (Amir Yakoby, via Leket Israel)

Throughout the years, people have asked me why our focus is on food as opposed to other services. For me, rescuing food has always been a win-win solution. 37% of all food that is produced in Israel goes to waste. Meanwhile, nonprofits are struggling to raise money to provide food for their communities instead of addressing their other needs. By alleviating this stress, we are putting the emphasis on helping people leave the circle of poverty as well as rescuing food that would otherwise unnecessarily go to waste.

The first school to receive cooked food from Leket Israel was the Atid Ofakim High School in southern Israel. The request came on behalf of the school’s principal and by the next day they received their first lunch delivery, allowing the students to stay in school longer to focus on their studies. Noam Luzan, a student who received cooked food through Leket Israel at his high school, is currently completing his service in a senior position in the Israeli navy. He shared that having healthy, nurturing meals helped him finish his studies and enlist in the IDF.

Leket has worked diligently in the nonprofit community, working as the Israeli representative for the Global FoodBanking Network, sharing best practices and learning from each other. Our work with the government led to the passing of the Food Donation Act in 2018, and our continued lobbying with Members of Knesset will hopefully lead to further government assistance.

In two decades, Leket Israel has worked tirelessly to achieve our mission of making a positive impact on society, and our efforts have yielded significant results. We have been blessed with the support of devoted staff, dedicated volunteers, and loyal partners who share our vision and are committed to making a difference. Here’s to 20 more years of helping those in need!

Packages of fresh produce. (Leket Israel)
About the Author
Joseph Gitler is the founder and voluntary chairman of Leket Israel – the National Food Bank. Now in its 20th year, Leket Israel rescues cooked meals from hotels, corporate cafeterias and IDF army bases and fresh surplus agricultural produce from farmers. This food is distributed through a network of nonprofit partner agencies feeding 234,000+ Israelis in need each week. To learn more visit www.leket.org/en.
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