Meet the Branch Managers of the Meir Panim Restaurant-Style Soup Kitchens
Meir Panim was established in the year 2000 with the goal of providing food security to thousands of needy people in Israel. To this end, the organization established a network of Restaurant-Style Soup Kitchens, located in Jerusalem, Dimona, Or Akiva, Tzfat and Tiberias, where Israel’s hungry are served by volunteers with a hot and nutritious meal in a caring atmosphere so they can maintain their self-respect and dignity.
Additionally, the organization operates other programs for the needy including: After School Neighborhood Youth Centers in Sderot for at-risk teens, distributes prepaid food shopping cards, provides Holiday Food Packages to needy families and more.
In this article, we’d like to introduce you to the faces behind this sacred work. It’s because of their dedication that Israel’s hungry are provided with the nutrition they need.
Mr. Nissim Elmakayes, Dimona Branch Manager
Mr. Nissim Elmakayes joined the organization in 2002 and tells us about his experiences.
“I start my day with a morning prayer. From there, I go to the “rehabilitation” center that employs people with special needs and pick up utensils and pots from the day before. Then I travel to Dimona and start collecting food from bakeries and other businesses who have extra food to donate to us. I arrive at Meir Panim’s Dimona Branch and check the kitchen to make sure everything is ready and in place for the day. Then I stop by the Holocaust Survivor Day Center and chat with a few of the Survivors over a cup of coffee to hear how they are feeling and if they need something special or help with any other matter. I also donate what I can to an organization that is devoted to feeding the blind. When I return to the Branch, I prepare the food making sure the dishes will be ready and delicious”.
“Once a week I travel to the outskirts of Dimona and pick up vegetables from farmers. I also travel to the “HaMashkem factory” in Yerucham as well as the Baha’i city to collect leftover food from the IDF’s largest training camp. Every day I see so many people that are hungry and desperately need food, so I try to make sure the least amount of food gets thrown out.”
Do you have contact with the Dimona Welfare Department?
“Certainly. Part of my daily routine is coordination with the Municipality and the Welfare Department where I check if the people I have dealt with have been cared for. I also manage payments for seniors who have difficulty making them with today’s technological payment systems.”
Tell us about an exciting story that you remember especially as part of your work
“There was a woman named Ofra, a mother of 5 who had nothing to eat for herself or her kids. I visited her house and I saw poverty at its worst – an empty refrigerator, blackened walls, no furniture, and no clothes. The situation looked very bad and I decided to do something. I brought volunteers, and I called a friend – a gas technician – who attached a gas cylinder for the stove in the kitchen. We also arranged a job for her and today she is on the right track – she brings money home and now feeds her children with dignity.”
Ms. Ilanit Hafuta, Or Akiva Branch Manager
Ms. Ilanit Hafuta joined the organization in 2005 and she tells us about her sacred work.
“I come to the Branch every day at 7:00 AM and put the rolls in the oven that were donated to us by Angel Bakery. When the volunteers arrive, we sit together for coffee and plan the daily work tasks at the Branch. Some volunteers cook and some volunteers sort clothing for distribution to families that are referred to us by the Welfare Department. In addition, I am also responsible for prisoners who come to us to do community service.”
We would be happy if you expand on the subject
“I am personally responsible for the hours of community service that adult and minor prisoners in the district are mandated to fulfill. I design a rehabilitation plan with them, have one-one conversations with each of them. Group conversations are an essential part of my work as well. I identify with them because I know where they came from and what awaits them. My challenging upbringing has taught me many lessons that I am happy to pass on to them.”
We understand you volunteer at the welfare office, tell us about it
“I try to donate a lot of my time and I go to Amidar‘s committees and the Welfare Bureau almost every day. Just recently, I received a certificate of appreciation from the Or Akiva Municipality for my many contributions during the Corona crisis. It was very exciting.”
Tell us about an exciting story that you remember during your work
“There was one boy who came to us for community service after he had a criminal record. Later, I was able to recruit him to an elite unit in the army, marry him off, and arrange a stable job for him as a civil servant – which helps him support his family with dignity. He himself still volunteers with us today. “
Mr. Benny Elgad, Tzfat Branch Manager
Mr. Benny Elgad joined the organization in 2006 and has since worked on a full-time basis.
“My experience with Meir Panim began when I served as Social Services Director in 2006, during the second Lebanon War and 8 years before I retired. My goals are always accompanied by concern for our diners and also meeting high standards of satisfying, healthy and quality food. I work on recruiting volunteers and training them, while expressing my personal appreciation for their work. The day-to-day operation of the Restaurant-Style Soup Kitchen, from an organizational and technical perspective, requires time, resources, money, and collaborative efforts with various facets of the community. It is always exciting to see how many special and kind hearted people come to help.”
Tell us about an exciting story that you remember especially as part of your work
“The most exciting time was during the second Lebanon War, when many volunteers showed up to help distribute food to people who were staying in shelters. Three of the volunteers actually came from different parts of the country, outside Tzfat, just to help out.”
Ms. Yehudit Elimelech, Tiberias Branch Manager
Ms. Yehudit Elimelech joined the organization in 2018 and tells us about her experiences.
“I come to the Branch every morning and the first thing I do is sit down for a cup of coffee with the volunteers. That’s because I believe that a calm morning leads to a more effective day than a morning that starts with stress. I sit with the volunteers and they tell me how yesterday’s work day went. They bring me up-to-date on clients’ issues, their family experiences and more.”
“Then I set up all the cooking utensils and pots in the kitchen in order to cook alongside the volunteers. We upgrade food we receive as donations and include them where we can to enhance what we already have prepared. I always emphasize to the staff that our work should be accompanied with warmth and a smile. I believe that our compassion is the best ingredient. At the end of the work day, I always take a few dishes to deliver personally at the homes of the needy who cannot come to eat at the Branch.”
Tell us about an exciting story you remember as part of your work
“A woman approached me some time ago, and asked if it was possible to buy food for the benefit of her neighbor, a destitute person who has no food and has no way to cook. I told her that first of all she deserves countless blessings for helping a neighbor in distress and that we will provide him with a hot meal at our expense every day. Since he is homebound and elderly, we allocate a lot of food to give him and since then we continue to provide him with food on a regular basis. I’m not sure the man would have thrived otherwise.”
Mr. Natan Tsishinsky, Jerusalem Branch Manager
Mr. Natan Tsishinsky joined the organization several months ago after spending a long time looking for a fulfilling job.
“Meir Panim is a friendly place that gives people good and wholesome food. We adhere to all strict food regulations and provide the needy with all the nutrients they lack. Every hour of the day is centered around work. Sometimes when people who do not have anything to eat, they call me at 11:00 pm at night to make sure I will be there for them the next morning. It’s important for our clients to know that they can rely on me.”
“At night I dream about what will make the diners happy and put a smile on their faces. I enjoy serving the needy myself, and as we prepare the food, I like to see them become excited. During the Corona period, I made sure to connect with each recipient taking the package so all of our clients could still feel the personal connection.”
Tell us about an exciting story that you remember as part of your work
“There was a woman who came in one morning and asked us for food. She said that yesterday she did not eat anything so we sat her down and simply “revived” her. Moments before she was about to give up on everything, we were able to help her. We fed her good food and listened to her story. After an hour went by, the woman pulled herself together and left with a spring in her step. We were right there for her when she was ready to give up on everything.”
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