When Rita Plot started the “To Fill a Heart” organization seven years ago, she distributed hot meals to 10 needy families on Friday nights. Today, on the eve of Passover 2022, she, her family and a team of volunteers work from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. packaging no less than 165 boxes of kosher-for-Passover food for families and elderly in need.
Managing the organization is not Plot’s main occupation. She works in the operations department at Soroka Medical Center in Be’er Sheva, and recently completed her degree in remedial education. Plot runs the organization she set up in the hours before and after her work. It is very difficult to catch her even for a few minutes.
“For the past five years, we have all volunteered to make food baskets together with ‘Be’er Sheva Donates,’” she explained. “This year, because the families really multiplied, we just developed an operation ourselves.”
“The official response is not enough”
Plot started her own aid operation following a personal experience, in which she herself was exposed to food insecurity.
“I realized how important food is, how many people really do not have it. I never imagined that there were really people who needed food, and experiencing it made me unable to ignore it,” she said.
She joined a small Facebook group under the name “Be’er Sheva Donates,” and things took off from there.
“We were five administrators [of the group], people who all their lives volunteered and sought to help and build a supportive community in the city,” Plot said. “People would put up posts with various requests, and whoever could, would help. Over time, there were more and more requests for food packages, and we did not really know how to respond to this.
“I thought about what to do, and decided, together with another member of the Facebook group, to cook every Friday for a few families who asked.”
From there another family and another family was added, until the two young women were unable to fulfill all the needs themselves.
“We decided to set up a WhatsApp group,” said Plot. Today, the group includes 60 volunteers to cook meals and 80 drivers who drive the food to 150 families, the elderly, the sick and people with disabilities, all on a voluntary basis.
A person helped by the “To Fill a Heart” organization receives at least one serving of carbohydrates, a portion of protein, two types of salads and two challahs every Friday.
“There used to be wine, but we couldn’t meet all the demands,” Plot said.
She receives the referrals through Facebook groups, social workers and welfare services in the city, teachers and principals in schools and more.
“I’ve already accumulated contacts in the city, because the official response is really not enough,” she said.
“People during the pandemic were simply abandoned”
Plot is getting married in two months to her partner, Dor. He runs the organization with her, and is also on the ground during preparations for the holiday. Instead of busy preparing for the wedding and the family holiday meal, Rita and Dor have been working on raising money and food for the past month.
“Since Purim, we have been raising donations, money and groceries,” said Plot. “All the volunteers have been involved. For weeks we collected products in supermarkets, received donations through family and friends, and collected every shekel. We also received discounts from suppliers. We managed to collect about 30,000 shekels ($9,300) and buy everything we needed.”
According to Plot, the pandemic has greatly affected the number of families in need.
“There is insane growth. So much so that I do a screening and check with all the other organizations if there are any families that get served twice. There are just a lot of new families in need. At the moment we are not adding more families because it is just awfully hard,” she said.
“I felt COVID-19 in my bones when I could not find a job, and whoever has less than me was even more vulnerable. In the last two years, we have doubled the amount of needy people we donate to, and I'm sure it’s the case with almost everyone.”
Plot has sharp criticisms of the government.
“I do not think the country is dealing with citizens. People during the pandemic were simply abandoned. Maybe I do not understand the big picture and do not know about things that happen below the surface, but I know what is happening in the field,” she said.
“The government takes care of all sorts of cosmetic things and does not really care about the weak and those who need to be taken care of – the elderly, the sick, the mentally disabled, the weakened families, those who need it most.”
She points to privatization as part of the problem.
“For example, there was privatization in everything related to nursing companies, and today they do not do their job properly,” Plot said. “There is no supervision, no help, and those who need nursing simply do not get it. I know so many seniors like that, whom I assist in asking for help, and they just do not get it. The same goes for rehabilitation for people who need it, for financial aid and more.”
It isn’t just the nurses – the shortages are in everything having to do with providing care. She gives the example of social workers.
“There’s just a crazy shortage. The government does not invest in it, salaries are poor and there are not enough people working in it,” she said. “Every social worker in Be’er Sheva has 300 patients, and meanwhile the government is trying to get a million workers in high-tech. It’s crazy – I’m having a hard time with 160, how can one social worker handle 300?”
An army of kind-hearted volunteers
Dozens of volunteers come every day ahead of the holiday, to the sports field of the Rager High School in Be’er Sheva, to help the other volunteers of the organization.
Among the volunteers are youth groups, soldiers and police and families with children. Yuval Schweifel (15) and Ofri David (15), tenth-grade students at the Rager high school, came to help with packaging the food after their teacher, who volunteers as a cook at the organization, told them about the project.
“On Hanukkah and Purim, we collected money in class for food deliveries,” David said. “We bought snacks and packed them. We decided, some girls from the class, that we would come to help on Passover as well.”
“Last year I did Passover food deliveries as part of MDA (Magen David Adom), and I realized that it was important for me to continue helping people,” Schweifel added. “The situation requires fixing, and the government needs to do something about it. There are people who need food, and no one helps them.”
Daniel Melamed (11), who has been a volunteer with the association for over a year, also came to package food.
“I help collect food so that people do not run out of money and have to live on the streets,” Melamed said. “It’s very important to help, it feels very good afterwards.”
He heard about “To Fill a Heart” through his sister.
“Last Purim, I helped my sister and her friends do all sorts of things at home, where it started and since then I have been helping them every holiday,” he said.
Stav Silas, 29, oversees the volunteer children and teens. She is the office manager for a construction contractor and also works as a makeup artist. Silas recently moved from Dimona to Be’er Sheva.
“This is the first time I have volunteered,” she says as she packs boxes with the children and youth there. In each crate they put potatoes, cabbage and vegetables, a bottle of oil, matzah and other basic holiday products.
“I came through a mutual friend of mine and Rita’s,” Silas said. “I’m the kind of responsible adult here, keeping the children occupied, making sure they understand the importance of what they are doing. It’s very satisfying.”
“No one deserves to live like this”
Although Silas enjoys volunteering, she thinks the government should have taken care of these people.
“This government needs to be replaced,” she said. “It just cannot be that there are insane price increases: in food, in fuel, in shopping, in clothing, in everything, and they are doing nothing. No one deserves to live like this, not on Passover, not on any holiday or on a daily basis.”
As a young woman in Israel, Silas says she understands why there is an increase in the number of needy people.
“We are in a situation where it takes at least two jobs to buy an apartment here, and here, in the south, there is no work,” she explained. “I moved from Dimona to Be’er Sheva, and it’s still very difficult. And if you can find a job, the minimum wage is almost nothing. We need someone to be in charge, it cannot go on like this.”
This article was translated from Hebrew by Lily Sieradzki.