Meir Panim, a nonprofit organization in Israel, has been providing kosher hot meals in restaurant-style soup kitchens and home-delivered kosher food packages to individuals and families for the past decade. Now, coping with the coronavirus crisis, Meir Panim (meaning “brightening faces” in Hebrew) has more than tripled their services to keep up with the demand for much-needed food.
Their life-saving programs provide food for the elderly (including Holocaust survivors), the disabled and people who lost their jobs due to this global crisis — people who would have no other means of getting hot, nutritious food.
“We have a lot of people who are in isolation, who might have been exposed to the virus, and they are being mandated to stay at home for two weeks,” says Mimi Rozmaryn, director of global development for the Meir Panim Relief Center. “This could include clients of ours that would regularly come (to our locations), but given that they need to be isolated in their homes for two weeks, they need our help to get them the food so they can continue to thrive and stay healthy.”
The organization is working around the clock, and around the country. The restaurant-style soup kitchens are located in Safed, Tiberias, Or Akiva, Jerusalem and Dimona. Before Covid-19, clients would visit these locations, sit at tables and be served hot meals by volunteer waiters and waitresses. Now these volunteers are helping to cook the food and are packaging it for takeout, since dine-in is not an option yet. Food preparation is also done by paid staff and community service people.
“There are three things we are changing, to keep up with the situation and with societal needs,” says Rozmaryn. “The first one is, all of our restaurant-style soup kitchens changed to take-away meals. Each of our clients can come to the restaurant and receive a tray of food, sealed and ready to take home. The second thing we are doing is that we have an increase of Meals-on-Wheels. The third thing is, we are responsible for catering the food. In the past, we’d gotten so much food and rescued food from donations from hotels and event halls. This enabled us to feed our clients with food that would have otherwise been wasted. Now, with the shuttering of hotels and event halls, we are responsible for catering this food.”
Meals-on-Wheels has always been an important part of Meir Panim’s services, but with the coronavirus, this food delivery program has quickly become the solution to reach homebound people. In many cases it is saving people’s lives, particularly the elderly, who could otherwise not leave their homes to buy food. “It is a very large expense to provide these meals,” says Rozmaryn, “but it is our commitment to take care of our community and to continue, and even expand, in this difficult time.”
During the crisis, Israelis have risen to the occasion to help. For example, there has been an outpouring of volunteers who drive their own cars and deliver Meals-on-Wheels food packages to homes. In addition, the top chef at the Dan Caesarea luxury hotel is cooking as a volunteer for Meir Panim while his hotel is temporarily closed. And every day volunteers start to prepare food at sunrise to be ready for the Israelis who line up each morning at Meir Panim’s distribution centers.
Rozmaryn’s work with Meir Panim embodies her dedication to Israel. A native New Yorker who was raised on the Upper West Side, Rozmaryn was always interested in Jewish community service. She worked for Hillel and Birthright Israel after college. “Israel was always what I learned was our homeland. I have never taken that for granted,” she says. Two and a half years ago, she moved to Israel with her husband and their three young sons.
Describing Meir Panim’s programs, Rozmaryn says, “Every week is a different game plan, depending on the changing circumstances. We are continuing to keep the needy in Israel fed, in accordance with Israel’s health and safety regulations. This is our commitment.”