Jerusalem faces the coronavirus

“The coronavirus outbreak is affecting every aspect of Israeli society,” said the founder of Leket Israel.

By Tsivya Fox-Dobuler

Joseph Gitler, Founder and Chairman of the NGO Leket Israel, the leading food rescue organization in Israel, said restrictions caused by the coronavirus are a “serious concern” for every entity. However, NGOs in particular are on the “front line” and must enter “war-mode” and prepare for the worst, Gitler told United with Israel (UWI) on Wednesday.

“The widespread coronavirus outbreak is affecting every aspect of Israeli society, especially the nonprofit sector,” Gitler said. “The ripple effects of the measures taken to contain the disease are extremely far-reaching for organizations, businesses and individuals.”

Gitler said that NGOs are disproportionately affected, especially those that help families and children, as well as those that aid the elderly, sick, and poor.

“While high-tech companies can ask employees to work from home or put their staff on paid leave, those who work in lower-end jobs or get an hourly wage will most likely be put on unpaid leave or fired,” he said. “Everyone must come up with solutions to this crisis not only to keep their organizations afloat but also to continue helping all those in need.”

Leket, for example, provides 175,000 people a week with food. This includes 750,000 thousand pounds of fruits and vegetables a week harvested by 1,000 volunteers per week, most of whom are from tour groups. The organization canceled the next two weeks of harvesting by volunteers as Israel placed travel bans and forced quarantines on people coming to the country from abroad.

“The vast majority of the food we provide to struggling families, after-school programs, and groups for the elderly and disabled come from rescuing surplus food from hotels, corporate cafeterias, events, and the Israeli army,” Gitler explained to UWI. “Now that tourism is on hold and events of over 100 people are forbidden, our main sources for food has been cut off.”

At Risk: The Sick, Elderly and Disabled

Gitler is particularly concerned about the sick, elderly and disabled who receive their daily nutrition while attending public activities and groups. Many group activities are on hold as people in these categories are particularly vulnerable to coronavirus. They have been asked to stay home, which makes getting them proper meals a big challenge.

“As the need for food is increasing due to people either losing business or losing their jobs, our sources for food have been decimated,” he said. “We are already preparing an emergency plan for continuing to help those in need maintain food security.”

Gitler said he will most likely need to hire temporary staff to do what is normally handled by volunteers, such as picking fruits and vegetables and making food packages. In addition, while the average meal made from surplus food costs a little over a dollar, Leket will need to start purchasing bulk food items since hotels are now nearly empty and many events have been cancelled, which are a key source of Leket’s supplies. That raises a meal price to five to six dollars, an enormous increase especially when considering the organization provides food to 4,000 families a week.

While Leket is a well-known NGO that can hold an emergency fundraising campaign to rally support in the face of coronavirus challenges, smaller and lesser known NGOs might have a harder time, Gitler warned.

Gitler offered the following specific advice to help fellow organizations to stay afloat:

– Plan for the worst in “war-mode” and be prepared for unexpected threats to work flow and funding;

– Create temporary solutions, such as cutting salaries temporarily by 20 percent with plans return back to standard salaries and work conditions after the crisis passes;

– Create a contingency plan on both a financial and organizational level;

– Think out-of-the-box to continue your mission by, for example, outsourcing key tasks like food delivery to service providers outside of he organization;

“This is going to be a very rough period that could even lead to recessions,” Gitler added. “This is a time when those who have the ability to help must rise to the occasion. Now is the time for those from the donor world to get ready to do all they can to help NGOs continue to do their life-saving work.”