Bridges for Peace scrambling to meet increased needs due to coronavirus

Delivery food packages from Bridges for Peace (Photo courtesy)

With the effects of fear, unemployment and closures stemming from the COVID-19 outbreak in Israel, ministries are getting more requests for help than usual.

“We feed over 20,000 people every month, from all over Israel. The coronavirus crisis increased the needs,” Patrick Verbeten, the Israel Operations Director of Bridges of Peace, said. “Unfortunately, we can’t help all of them. We have received requests for assistance that would take over a million dollars to fund.”

Verbeten shared with KNI how the crisis is affecting their ministry. He is now working from home, as are most of the administration employees of the organization. The field workers, however, are considered essential and will be allowed to keep distributing food parcels to elderly and Holocaust survivors, even if the government imposes a full lockdown.

“We received a special permit from the Jerusalem municipality. We are thankful they recognize, after 50 years, that what we are doing here is making a difference,” Verbeten said.

Packing food bags at Bridges for Peace (Photo courtesy)

As the Israeli government added more and more restrictions, and the possibility of a total lockdown loomed, Bridges for Peace doubled its efforts in the beginning of March to get the Passover food parcels to people in time.

At that point, no one could know whether they would be able to do so later, or if their non-Israeli staff would even be allowed to stay.

“Thankfully, since then we have been able to continue to send out food parcels, and now we know for sure that even in the case of a total lockdown, the people we help will not be without food,” Verbeten said. “We feed 22,140 people every month. We have 400 children that are in school that receive a hot lunch every day. Since the schools closed, we have been giving their families vouchers so they can buy food.”

But the crisis did not only pose problems in the logistics of the existing programs. It also created additional needs.

“Two years ago, we helped about 200 families of the Bnei Menashe to make Aliyah, and now many of them lost their jobs. We added assistance to them to make sure they would all get the food they need for Passover.”

From early March, thousands of Israelis saw their livelihood taken from them as industry after industry shut down. First the aviation and the tourist industries, followed by restaurants, barber shops and salons and all other “non-essential” shops. Workplaces with more than 10 employees that are considered non-essential have been forced to cut their office staff to 15 percent. In just one month, Israel reached an unemployment level of 25 percent with 1 million people out of work.

Verbeten stressed that the situation has created an excess of needs, and Bridges for Peace does not have the means to help everyone.

“I think many ministries and charities are in the same situation as we are,” he said. “We would need an excess of funds to cover all the additional needs and opportunities, but there is an uncertainty.”

“If the entire world is being affected by this, we don’t know if people will be able to continue to support our projects. The more resources we have, the more people we can help. We just pray that the Lord will keep using us as he sees fit,” he concluded.