State distributes meals to 75,000 housebound elderly in expanding program
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State distributes meals to 75,000 housebound elderly in expanding program

Social Welfare Ministry launches ‘unprecedented’ initiative to feed seniors stuck at home because of coronavirus

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

A volunteer delivers a package of meals to an elderly resident of Tel Aviv, March 22, 2020. (Oded Karni, Government Press Office)
A volunteer delivers a package of meals to an elderly resident of Tel Aviv, March 22, 2020. (Oded Karni, Government Press Office)

The state on Sunday massively expanded a program to distribute meals to elderly people who are housebound because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Two weeks ago, it began providing meals to some 30,000 seniors who usually attend day centers and clubs that are now closed because of the pandemic.

On Sunday, acting on data from city and regional social services departments, as well as the National Insurance Institute, it sent an additional 45,000 meals out to 483 collection points nationwide, from which the packages were picked up by local welfare workers and volunteers to be distributed to homes.

By the end of this week, an additional 25,000 recipients will be added to the list, and the numbers will continue to grow after that.

Distributing boxes of meals for elderly people in Tel Aviv confined to their homes by the coronavirus, March 22, 2020. (Oded Karni, Government Press Office)

The ministry is using the network of catering companies that normally supply meals to schools.

Schools have been closed for more than a week because of the coronavirus.

Tzipi Nachshon-Glick, in charge of the elderly at the ministry, said that the food distribution project was “unprecedented” in its reach. The initiative would grow over the coming days and weeks, she said. “We will get to and provide food to all those who want it.”

A nutritionist oversees the menus.

In addition to receiving packed meals, which can be heated up in the microwave, each elderly person gets a daily telephone call from a welfare worker.

Rabbi Shlomo Sobol (left) and Rabbi David Fine, founders of Barkai (photo credit: Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)
Rabbi David Fine (right) and Rabbi Shlomo Sobol, founders of Barkai. (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

In the city of Modiin, between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, the municipality’s social services and volunteer departments are working hand in hand with Barkai, established in 2012 to train Israeli rabbis to develop community and pastoral leadership skills alongside their religious and teaching ones.

Co-founder Rabbi David Fine explained that with 10 Barkai-trained rabbis in various neighborhoods throughout the city (out of 80 nationwide), it provided a natural network for the city to collaborate.

Barkai’s administrator, Amit Baron, who is coordinating the logistics for the meal distribution, said that members of rabbis’ 10 synagogues had met after the outbreak began and decided to create a protective envelope for the city’s elderly.

They contacted one of Modiin’s deputy mayors, who put them in touch with the social welfare department. After that, Barkai geared up via Facebook posts and WhatsApp groups to recruit distribution volunteers for all 13 Modiin neighborhoods and to ensure that speakers of languages from English and German to Spanish and Portuguese would be available.

Amit Baron, administrator at the Barkai organization, who is helping to coordinate delivery of meals to seniors in the city of Mod’iin. (Facebook)

The volunteers, who will be taking food to around 200 seniors, have been issued strict Health Ministry instructions calling on them to wash hands before and after each delivery,  phone the recipient to announce the delivery and maintain a distance of at least two meters (6.5 feet) when the door opens.

Each volunteer wears a special vest for easy identification.

Said Baron, “We’ve been working day and night to arrange the pool of volunteers and the municipality has worked very hard to create the list of elderly, to talk to every one of them. Very thorough work has been done.”

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