Leket Israel is the largest food bank in Israel and has been working to rescue food nationwide since 2003. Founded by Joseph Gitler, Leket gathers and redistributes fresh, high-quality, and perishable food items that would otherwise be considered waste. The organization collects food from farms, hotels, military bases, restaurants, and catering halls. Leket partners with 195 nonprofit organizations throughout the country to provide nutritious food to more than 175,000 people on a weekly basis. In 2015 alone, Leket rescued and delivered more than 13.6 million kilograms (30 million pounds) of fresh, nutritious food to those in need.
Gitler comments on Leket’s work: “Leket provides fresh and cooked food, and we arrive at our nonprofits with a complete meal in hand. Oftentimes, food banks claim that they provide 40 million meals. However, what they consider a meal is not actually a complete meal. We aim to provide nutritious foods that compose a balanced diet. Since our focus is on healthy food, we move it very quickly. Our recipients are not individuals, but rather nonprofits, from small mom and pop organizations to large feeding charities, soup kitchens, and shelters.”
Approximately 35 percent of all the food produced in Israel goes to waste, creating an opportunity for organizations to step in and redirect the steady stream of nutrients into the hands of the hungry. Part of the motivation behind Gitler founding Leket Israel was the contradictory nature of large scale waste existing amidst a growing portion of the Israeli population that lives below the poverty line. “Leket responds to that. In the West, we do not respect food anymore. It is shocking, and it’s an unacceptable situation. The side effects are not just poverty. Other problems arise on so many levels,” Gitler explains.
Leket Israel is operationally structured such that it carries out a wide range of food rescue activities: gleaning produce from farmland, collecting surplus from packing houses, rescuing cooked food from various suppliers, saving food products from the manufacturing industry, and sorting and packing leftover food. All of the food that Leket acquires is put through an intricate logistical system. Leket’s refrigerated trucks transport the food items to two logistical centers located in Northern and Central Israel. Food that enters the facilities is stored in optimal conditions to preserve it before transferring to nonprofits across the country. Leket continues to play a large role in that cycle of food recovery, giving guidance to its partner nonprofits on subjects ranging from infrastructure to food safety and nutrition.
Large operations require many hands; a substantial portion of Leket’s food rescue activities is sustained by its tens of thousands of committed volunteers—in 2016, estimates are more than 52,000. According to Gitler, “the work we do with farmers, we think, is the largest agricultural recovery project in the world—with 60,000 volunteers, this year we are going to rescue over 18 million kilograms (20,000 tons) of food.”
“If we recover even just 25 percent of the food wasted, we will take care of feeding the poor. The only limiting factor is resources.” Gitler says. Leket Israel aids and provides service to all populations considered at-risk, irrespective of ethnicity, gender, or religion. Gitler clarifies, “Leket Israel serves all sectors of Israeli society, and all sectors have different requirements (kosher, halal, etc.). We are a secular organization, serving Israeli Jews, Arabs, and refugees, many from Eritrea and Darfur. Geographically, because Israel is such a small country, we fill the role between Feeding America and City Harvest.”
Click here to learn more about Leket Israel.