Covid-19 has taught us a lesson or two regarding advance planning (futile) and flexibility (crucial). And so, with Covid on the rise again, albeit with most cases being minor, Meir Panim is continuing with operations to provide necessities for Passover, and where needed, a place at the Seder table. That said, Meir Panim is aware of the need to pivot with the times, and to be ready in short order with a “Plan B.”
Meir Panim’s patrons come from across the spectrum of Israel society, including the elderly as well as single-parent families, people on disability allowances and the working poor, whose numbers have skyrocketed since the onset of the pandemic. This year, Meir Panim has been welcoming an unexpected, completely new demographic: refugees from Ukraine. They started to trickle in around Purim and have been arriving in Israel in steadily increasing numbers.
While many refugees are receiving their needs from government agencies, just as many are streaming to the homes of relatives and friends. As the hospitality becomes more prolonged, the hosts – many of whom are not well off themselves – are finding it harder and harder to provide for their guests, who eventually find their way to Meir Panim branches.
“We’ve seen a lot of refugees in Tiberias and in Or Akiva, and have been endeavoring to fill in the gaps,” says Mimi Rozmaryn, Director of Global Development at Meir Panim. “We have the infrastructure, and we’re ready to do whatever is needed.”
As soon as the refugees started coming, Meir Panim’s branch managers took the initiative to print up signs in Hebrew and Russian, welcoming the newcomers and informing them that they can seek assistance from Russian-speaking volunteers. “They’ve been through so much trauma just getting here,” Mimi observes. “We’re trying to help them feel more settled in any way we can.”
As many refugees arrived with not much more than the clothes on their backs, Meir Panim has been collecting and distributing clothing as well as toys, coloring books, crayons, etc. for the many children.
“We were delighted to provide baby clothing for a refugee who was in her ninth month, and who recently gave birth to the first refugee baby,” Mimi relates.
Dimona, one of the cities where Meir Panim is active, has been identified as one of the locations where the Israeli government plans to settle the masses of refugees. Meir Panim works in partnership with the municipality and will be taking an involved role in helping them further.
As Passover approaches, Meir Panim is going into high gear. Last year, a communal Seder was organized in Tzefat and Dimona; this year, due to increased demand and need, Meir Panim is planning Seders in other cities as well. Additionally, Meir Panim volunteers and staff have been preparing and packaging all the Seder needs, from A to Z, for those who will be making their own Seder at home. There is a pantry basket, with staples for the week of the holiday, available for pickup or delivered to homes. Prepaid grocery vouchers are another way to provide food security for those who need it most.
Against the background of those preparations, people still need to eat now. Accordingly, all five branches are working around the clock to cook and package the huge amounts of food distributed daily. “While it feels like the pandemic is over health-wise, the financial crisis continues,” Mimi observes. “We’re still preparing double the pre-pandemic amount in all our branches.”
Can anyone believe that something good came out of the pandemic? In the last two years, the kids and counselors couldn’t meet at the three Sderot Youth Centers for at-risk teens, but they were allowed to do so for volunteering. Consequently, since the start of Covid, the teens have committed to integrating a strong volunteering component into their regular activities.
Sderot teens are now in charge of packaging and distributing care packages for the isolated and elderly, as well as for soldiers at the local military outpost. Before Purim, they distributed Mishloach Manot packages, and now they’re busy with the Passover food baskets that will be distributed all over town.
“The teens were delighted to hear how their volunteering really makes a difference and to see the seniors so overjoyed to receive the parcels,” says Mimi. “And, of course, they had a great time working together in a festive atmosphere with music and lots of snacks.”
For International women’s day recently, the teens visited the municipal center to distribute flowers to seniors in the area. “Building the connection between generations has been a very meaningful activity for the teens, and they loved going around the senior’s homes and community centers to deliver them,” Mimi reports.
“We can only hope that the situation continues to remain stable,” Mimi says. “We want the people, especially those who live alone, and who suffered for two long years in isolation, to finally feel safe and secure enough to once again come to our centers and gain from the social interaction — food for both the body and soul,” Mimi reflects.
Donations can be made online at www.mpdonate.org, through our toll-free number at (1877) 736-6283, or by mail to American Friends of Meir Panim at 88 Walton Street, Suite B1 Brooklyn, NY 11206-4479. All donations made in the US are tax-deductible under EIN# 20-1582478.
By Hadassah Bay