This is Chanoch.
Chanoch is our dependable IDF coordinator, who we work with to implement our IDF Holiday campaign. He's in contact with army commanders throughout Israel, who know their soldiers well and are familiar with their backgrounds and needs. Together, with their information, Chanoch and the commanders determine which soldiers would benefit from the help our holiday program provides: hundreds of shekels' worth (per soldier) of food aid, in time for the Yomim Tovim - help that transforms the holiday experience for each needy soldier and, when applicable, his or her family.
The aid is distributed to soldiers by way of supermarket gift cards (the same kind that anyone can buy, but in our case, have been purchased at discounted cost) which they can use to shop for food at major store chains. Our program began over nine years ago, and has grown from helping 40 soldiers in our first year, to now helping over 3,000 twice a year: in time for Pesach and again for the High Holidays.
Each round, we're reminded how critical our support is. The excited, happy (sometimes tearful) responses it elicits from needy soldiers illustrates the program's importance, showing us time and again that it's this aid that makes it possible for these men and women to buy food for Yom Tov, relieving them and their families of tremendous stress and replacing it with relief and happiness. Being the one who interacts with soldiers on a constant basis, we asked Chanoch to tell us a bit about the program. The truth is, we could talk to him about it all day but as you can imagine, Chanoch is a busy man so please read on for our...
Five Questions for Chanoch (and their answers!):
1. What types of soldiers does the program help?
We reach soldiers (and commanders!) in need from all the different sectors of Israeli society, no matter their background.
2. What was the best reaction you've ever received from a recipient?
There are so many moving reactions and responses. One of them that really touched me, was a photo I received from a married soldier erev Yom Tov: it was a shot of a shopping cart full of food for the chagim, and he included this caption: "Without the cards you gave us, I don't know what I would have done. It is in your zechut that my wife and I, and our children, can celebrate Yom Tov in kavod." That really spoke to me.
3. What has surprised you the most?
Sadly, the sheer number of soldiers who need help. The situations they're in...some of them literally have empty refrigerators in their homes.
4. The program is over 9 years old - what differences have you noticed from its start until now?
The growth in the project. We are reaching more people, in more locations and are able to distribute funds that are really mechubad - hundreds of shekels for each person make a big impact. Sadly the need also just continually grows.
5. What do you think is important for the donors to know?
We see how much the program impacts the soldiers and commanders, they are so grateful. For them, this is the biggest virtual, collective "hug" they can receive. There is no doubt that the program nurtures the feeling of connection and achdut in Am Yisrael. It increases ahavat chinam among all the sectors in Israeli society. The commanders describe how it gives their soldiers motivation to keep going, inspired to serve and protect Am Yisrael.
I think this is one of the most important programs for Am Yisrael. Donors should know they are the ones literally keeping these soldiers and their families on their feet. The gift cards for Yom Tov give them the feeling that people are thinking about them, that people care about them. There is no doubt that in the zechut of this program, soldiers and their families will be able, once again this chag, to sit down to their table with a smile, a "lev sameach" and in happiness.