Raisa, an 80 year old holocaust survivor, has been living alone since her beloved husband passed away. Without any remaining relationships in her life, she longs for personal connection. Hannah, an 80 year old woman living with her son who suffers from a disability, had to sell all their jewelry simply to buy food.
In our hectic everyday lives, we hear these stories almost all the time. They come up in our social media feeds, or on the news.
For Matan Asulin and Ronnie Lee, these were not just stories you hear about and move on, it was a call to action. They started what would become ‘Heart to Plate’ (“מהלב לצלחת”), an amazing nonprofit that connects lonely and elderly people in need, with a community of volunteers who take care of them by providing a hot Shabbat dinner and ongoing human interaction.
First steps to making a difference
“Covid was when it all began”, says Matan. “We heard about an elderly woman who was asking for food for Shabbat. She was asking for some meat or fish”, he recalls. “It was heartbreaking to know that there were elderly folks out there that needed to ask for food. We thought there must be quite a few good people who could share some of their food and give it to an elderly neighbor living alone”.
They started with a pilot program a year and a half ago, alongside their studies. Determined to make it work, they gave up high tech position offers and focused on their vision. The pilot was aimed at helping 5 elderly people, but soon many volunteers joined in and the program grew to helping 60 elderly participants. During Sukkot holiday more friends came together and the activity increased to serve 250 senior citizens.
Two hours once a month bring so much joy
Today Matan and Ronnie are Heart to Plate’s Co-CEOs, and its community of volunteers includes 400 people, taking care of 160 senior citizens through a group volunteering model: every 4 volunteers take care of 2 elderly people.
Once a month, each team member prepares a home-cooked meal for two participants and delivers it to them.
The “once-a-month” model makes it easy for volunteers to continue giving, and allows for the program’s participants to receive a warm visit and a meal every Friday.
“We work with high tech companies that volunteer either consistently or on holidays, as well as with schools, youth movements and local communities”, says Ronnie.
Endless ways to help out, even from home
“We also have skill-based volunteering options, in which volunteers help us out according to capabilities they have, such as volunteer management and coordination, web and system development, organizational consulting, graphic design, photography and much more”, Matan adds.
In time it became clear that food wasn’t the only element the program’s participants were missing. Many who were calling to ask for food were really longing most for simple human connection - love, affection, a supportive environment, someone that cares.
“Food is not just ingredients put together”, says one of the nonprofit’s volunteers, “that moment when you share your food is also when you share a piece of your heart”.
So let’s go back to the story about Hannah and her son. Today they are surrounded by amazing volunteers who take care of all their needs, from missing equipment and repair work around the house, to celebrating birthdays together and driving them to checkups as needed. “To us, that’s the meaning of a supportive community”, says Matan.
And as for Raisa, she now has many new relationships in her life:
Join the mission!
‘Heart to Plate’ aims to grow and serve tens of thousands of people in need all across Israel, and seeks partners for the road ahead that will help increase the nonprofit’s activity and ensure its stability. ”We know this goal is possible and will give our all to achieve it”, says Ronnie.
So if you’re touched by this incredible mission and want to lend a hand, there are plenty of ways to do it -
Russian speaker? Perfect! The organization is looking for Russian speaking volunteers to communicate with a large number of the program’s elderly participants.
Copywriter, web developer, graphic designer or just really good at coordinating volunteers?
Reach out and find out how you can help!
In just 2-3 hours a month, we can make sure no one is left alone in a time of need, and create a strong, happy community.