Sprouting Success One Sandwich at a Time

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By Maayan Hoffman

There are 776,500 children in Israel living below the poverty line, according to a recent survey by the National Insurance Institute. Nevet, literally sprout, is giving these children the opportunity to succeed and break this cycle of poverty.

Nevet provides daily nutritious breakfast sandwiches to 8,000 students from disadvantaged backgrounds and dysfunctional homes. The organization, founded by the nonprofit Leket Israel in 2006 became its own entity in 2016. Now, it operates in 130 schools across 46 Israeli cities during the morning break. There are 13,000 students on the waiting list.

According to Rotem Yosef, Nevet’s vice president for strategic development, Nevet was a grassroots initiative, developed only out of need.

“When students go all day or even until lunch without eating, they cannot concentrate to learn because they are hungry,” said Yosef. “If in the most important hours of the day they are full, then they will be more successful in their studies.”

Nevet is the only national program of its kind, though some similar, local programs do exist. The program serves kids from first grade to grade 12. It operates with a small team of professionals and a large cadre of volunteers, who distribute the sandwiches to the schools early in the morning.

To ensure the students do not feel embarrassed about taking the food, Nevet has no distinctive packaging. Schools put the food out in an accessible way and children can come take a sandwich before first or second period. Then, at snack time, they take the food out of their bags or binders like every other student.

“We don’t want these kids to stand out,” said Yosef, who noted that many of Nevet’s clients come from homes where parents are neglectful and simply forget to give their children this much-needed food.

Nevet also strives to provide nutritious answers, with predominantly whole wheat bread and always healthy spreads ranging from avocado and yellow cheese to cream cheese and tuna. Annual surveys show that 86 percent of principals believe Nevet’s sandwiches improved their learning environments. Some 83 percent of students said the sandwich provided an incentive for them to come to school; 57 percent said they were motivated to come to school just for the sandwich.

“It costs us around 540 shekels to allow one kid to eat for a whole year,” said Yosef. “It is a very small price with a really big impact.”

Revital Azulay is a Nevet employee in Acco, a coastal city in northern Israel. She said in her work, “I see terrible poverty.” In Acco there are many underprivileged immigrants from the former Soviet Union who benefit from the program.

“They come to school in these terrible clothes – girls that look hungry,” said Azulay. “We give them the sandwiches.”

She tells a story of how one day she saw a child crying on a bench in the school yard after her daily delivery. When she approached the child, the young girl told her she was starving but did not like the whole wheat bread that Nevet normally provides. Azulay appealed to the organization. The next day, instead of 60 whole wheat sandwiches, Nevet provided the school with 30 on whole wheat and 30 on white.

Research shows a direct tie between school breakfast programs and academic performance. A recent report by the Center for Disease Control showed skipping breakfast is associated with decreased cognitive performance among students.

“With Israel being known as the start-up nation, not a lot of people know there are so many poor kids who come to Israel without even a sandwich for breakfast,” said Yosef. “Nevet provides more than just breakfast. It helps children stay in school.”