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Reflections on the Past and Hope for the Future with American Friends of Meir Panim Chairman

Michael Fromm in front of observation windows

Meir Panim was founded in 2000 to fill an urgent void in Israeli society — addressing the food insufficiency and social isolation associated with poverty. Over the years, tens of thousands of men, women and children have received physical and emotional relief with dignity through Meir Panim initiatives.

Michael Fromm, the Chairman of American Friends of Meir Panim (AFMP), recently visited various Meir Panim facilities with his wife, Susan. This included checking the progress of our greatest endeavor yet, the establishment of the largest institutional kitchen in the Middle East designed to dramatically expand Meir Panim’s capacity to serve the needy.

With his extensive connections throughout the Jewish world and his keen business sense, Fromm saw an opportunity to create a self-sustaining solution for feeding Israel’s hungry. “We have partnered with a leading corporate caterer who will lease the institutional kitchen to serve their for-profit client base, which will neutralize the operating expenses to Meir Panim,” explained Fromm. The 50,000 square foot complex located in Kiryat Gat will have the capacity to make 200,000 hot meals a day operating around-the-clock.

With overhead costs covered by the catering company, donors to Meir Panim will be encouraged to know that their money is being used to directly feed hungry people and fund other projects, like after school programs. “In addition, at least 200 paying jobs for local workers will be created in an economically depressed area,” shared Fromm.

He was delighted to note that thirty percent of the hired staff will be legally disabled. Since much of the food production will be automated, handicapped workers will be able to occupy these positions and receive a wage.

Touring the site with Fromm and other Meir Panim officials, it was clear that these visionaries understand the needs of the poor as well as how donor money can make the greatest impact.“Did you notice the big windows surrounding the food preparation areas?” Fromm proudly pointed out. “We installed those for when visitors come and want to see how their donations have been utilized. They can view the production of the meals without compromising the hygiene of the operation.”

Clearly pleased with the facility, Susan noted, “This building was originally a dilapidated textile warehouse. When we first saw it with our children, we were walking over piles of junk. I thought, ‘What have we done?’ But, seeing it today, it’s an amazing accomplishment.”

The facility is due to open in the near future. Eighty percent of the machinery is already in place and workers were busy putting the finishing touches on the enormous structure. Meals for the needy will be cooked in this facility and delivered throughout Israel to Meir Panim restaurants, after-school clubs and individual recipients.

Fromm’s first experience with Meir Panim’s restaurant-style soup kitchen was as part of a UJC Young Leadership Mission in 2003. “To be honest, I was unnerved seeing so many hungry people streaming into the restaurant,” he shared. “Up until that point, we were given the impression that all was thriving in the Holy Land. Clearly, this was not the case.”

A 2014 Israeli government study found that 25 percent of Israelis live in poverty. One-out-of-three Israeli children go hungry each day. “It is astounding to think that due to lack of proper nutrition, Israel is at risk of losing its place as a world leader in science, medicine, technology engineering and other professions. We know that proper nutrition leads to higher academic performance,” noted Fromm.

Fromm, his family and friends have volunteered many times over the years in Meir Panim’s restaurant-style soup kitchens preparing and serving meals. “Everyone I bring here is impressed with the atmosphere. There are proper tables and chairs. Meals are served on real dishes with real cutlery, allowing patrons to forget they are poor for a little while.”

When asked why the Israeli government hasn’t done more to help the poor, Fromm is quick to point out that the Welfare Ministry is an important partner in addressing the dire impact of poverty. “But the problem is so large that no one entity can possibly supply the need”, he explained. “So we can argue about who should be doing what, or we can jump in and feed hungry people.” By all measures, Meir Panim is doing just that.

Visit here to view progress pictures of the largest industrial kitchen in the Middle East.