Ifat Hatzav | Special to the JT
For many of us, there is perhaps no more basic comfort food than the sandwich.
We take two pieces of bread, fill it and have a self-sufficient meal.
As kids, that was a meal that sustained us for years and is a staple of school lunchrooms all over the world.
The simplicity of the basic sandwich, celebrated around the globe on World Sandwich Day (Nov. 3), is what attracted us to use it as an answer to a very complex problem: childhood hunger and juvenile delinquency across Israeli society.
Each day, in every corner of Israeli society, tens of thousands of children come to school hungry. While their classmates unpack lunch bags filled with snacks, fruit and containers filled with freshly prepared meals, they literally have nothing.
Perhaps this is a fact that seems beyond comprehension when thinking of an advanced nation like Israel. But the data shows that it is a very real, and growing, problem.
But hunger is only part of the challenge. Perhaps the bigger issue is that a hungry child can be an irritable child, a jealous child and a child who has no desire to be in school and certainly no energy to try and excel in their studies. They act out, bully their classmates, disrupt and disrespect their teachers.
And as much as we might be lead to believe that such school-based misbehavior is an unfortunate given and that “kids will be kids,” our research has shown that this is simply not the case. There is always a reason a kid acts out, and more often than not, it is because they are missing something. Perhaps it might be emotional or physical, but just as often it’s that they’re plain old hungry.
This understanding brought the realization in 2006 to create NEVET, an organization aimed to provide as many hungry children as possible with a nutritious sandwich, discretely distributed in school. The goal was to create a manageable logistical network, composed primarily of volunteers such as myself and partners within the school systems (many of them teachers or principals who have a personal stake in their students’ welfare) that could address the hunger and behavior challenges in a simple, cost-effective and trust building way.
SCHOOLS SHOWED Higher attendance rates
Today, they take a great deal of pride in the success of this model, while fully cognizant of the fact that we have only scratched the surface.
Success in the endeavor is measured not only in the number of sandwiches distributed — 11,000 every day with a projected 1.8 million in 2022 — but in the impact reports received from participating schools.
In a survey completed at the end of last school year among principals in schools who participate in the NEVET program, an overwhelming 96% of them reported seeing significant academic and behavioral improvement since the sandwich program was implemented.
That was coupled with a reduction in incidences of violence on school grounds and less smoking among students.
A whopping 89% of the schools also showed higher attendance rates, indicating in part that the children were dependent on the school to provide them with food for the day.
As of this month, Nevet has been working with 240 Israeli schools and students of all backgrounds — Jew, Muslim, Druze, Bedouin, Arab, secular and religious. Hunger doesn’t discriminate, and we know that it exists in every town and neighborhood throughout the country, even those we traditionally associate as being upper-class and poverty-free.
Nearly every day, requests are sent in from schools to expand the program and to address additional students who are in need of support.
But not every problem requires a complex solution. Sometimes, it can be nothing more than the humble sandwich.
Ifat Hatzav from Hod Hasharon volunteers with Nevet.