When an elderly man who moved to Israel from Russia several years ago recently went missing, he was found through the sharp awareness and caring aid of volunteers from the soup kitchen at which he regularly ate.
“Vladimir comes every day to our facility to eat lunch,” said Beni Elgad, Director of Meir Panim’s Restaurant-Style Soup Kitchen in Israel’s northern city of Tzfat. “Our staff makes every effort not only to serve meals but also to build relationships with patrons who come to eat. Therefore, when he didn’t show up one day, we immediately jumped into action to make sure that all was okay.”
After the Meir Panim volunteers’ first efforts to find Vladimir were unsuccessful, they contacted the city’s social services department, which was able to locate him. “We were all so grateful that Vladimir was found,” expressed Elgad. “He has declining cognition and challenging health issues and had gotten confused and lost his way.”
The story might have ended differently if Meir Panim did not take a personal interest in each of its poverty-stricken patrons. Not only does the organization feed thousands of impoverished people each day throughout Israel, but its network of volunteers take pride in serving their clientele.
“This story represents the beauty of Meir Panim’s work,” said Goldie Sternbuch, Director of Overseas Relations for Meir Panim. “Our staff truly cares about each of our patrons and pays attention to their personal needs. Along with feeding them, which might possibly be their only meal of their day, we listen to their stories and know who they are. Our volunteers really care.”
Providing fresh hot meals for Israel’s neediest citizens is just part of what Meir Panim’s Tzfat branch does. The organization, in association with Tzfat’s municipality, has developed a unique program for Holocaust survivors that encourages them to help others as they receive assistance from Meir Panim.
Survivors volunteer in Meir Panim free restaurant by cooking and serving meals. The atmosphere is relaxed and inviting, often becoming a “second home” for many. In this way, not only do the survivors receive a nourishing meal, they also build companionship with others and gain a sense of purpose to their day to day lives.
As a token of gratitude, the volunteers are presented each month with a prepaid food shopping card equivalent to 250 NIS (about $75). The card resembles a credit card and is recognized by Israel’s major food chains. It can be used to buy groceries and household goods.
The restaurant also operates as a social club which offers activities, including a choir, as well as social interaction for elderly Holocaust survivors. Programs and activities are planned by a professional social worker, specializing in aiding the elderly.
“Meir Panim’s approach to helping those in need is all-encompassing and compassionate,” said Sternbuch. “Just look at how well things turned out for Vladimir.”