Virtual food basket site triples donations to hungry

Leket Israel relies on volunteers to collect unused food, and its new online ‘supermarket’ enables more people to help

Volunteers sort produce at the warehouse of Leket Israel, the country's largest food-rescue organization. (Ben Sales/JTA)
Volunteers sort produce at the warehouse of Leket Israel, the country's largest food-rescue organization. (Ben Sales/JTA)

A new interactive website has tripled the online donations to an Israeli charitable group — and that translates into much more food for the hungry.

Leket Israel, in business since 2003, is one of the country’s largest food bank networks, supplying and supplementing the diets of over a million people in Israel every day. The organization is going high-tech with the introduction of Leket’s Virtual Food Rescue site, where donors can fill up a digital shopping bag with fruits, vegetables, dairy products, and other necessities, sending them on their way to families in need.

The initial result, said a spokesperson for the organization, is remarkable — three times as many online food donations as before.

One of Leket’s more conventional keys to success is its volunteer network. While the organization accepts donations, its real strength is the 50,000 people who help collect food and products from stores, catering halls, farms, and other sources, mostly items that would have gone to waste. With that manpower, Leket is able to acquire and distribute each year 11 million kilos (25 million pounds) of produce and perishable goods, 1 million prepared meals, and 1.1 million volunteer-prepared sandwiches for needy schoolchildren.

Many people have expressed an interest in helping out but don’t have the time to volunteer, said Joseph Gitler, the organization’s founder and chairman. The website was designed for them. “Leket Israel’s Virtual Food Rescue site gives people who can’t come to volunteer in our fields the opportunity to directly impact the lives of those less fortunate,” he said.

“The idea behind it was to give people a way to be involved in the food rescue initiatives that Leket does, even if they could not actually come and join our projects in person,” said an organization spokesperson. “The site is intended to give them an interactive experience so that they feel that they are doing more than just giving a donation — they are given the opportunity to make an impact on what is rescued to benefit the need.”

Guided by the theory that getting people to donate specific items makes them more amenable to giving than just asking for a “donation” (a theory espoused by, among others, Israeli crowdfunding donation site Give2gether), Leket designed a site that lets donors pick the products they want to give. Donors have the option of choosing one of three sizes of ready-made baskets, which include basics like chicken, vegetables, fruit, meat, and dairy products, or building their own basket.

The price of each item is listed — a 750 gram (1.5 pound) loaf of bread, for example, costs 66 agorot, or 19 cents. The prices, said a Leket spokesperson, are based on a number of factors, but reflect the fact that the products and produce are donated and gathered by volunteers.

What about fruits and vegetables that aren’t in season? For that, the site includes a disclaimer: “Leket Israel will do all in its power to provide the food you have chosen. However, we are dependent upon the availability of food we can rescue throughout the year.”

So far, the gambit is working, said the Leket spokesperson. “We launched the Virtual Food Rescue site about a month ago, and when we compare our online donations the week prior to the launch with the week we launched, our online donations almost tripled in quantity. It’s been very successful.”

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