When 7-year-old Shira goes to bed, she bites her lip, reminding herself not to complain to her mother that she is hungry.
Rena is a single mother whose husband left her two years ago. Since then, he has refused to pay child support, leaving Rena, who married young with little education, to raise Shira on her own.
“I remember when Shira was born,” Rena (name changed) told Breaking Israel News. “Shira means ‘song’ in Hebrew, and our world was so lovely and full of hope.”
Today, Rena and Shira rarely feel like singing and do not see this world as a particularly beautiful place to be in. What they know is poverty. Nearly one-third of Israel’s children go to bed hungry, which affects their day-to-day lives and their future success, according to Goldie Sternbuch, director of overseas relations for Meir Panim.
Hungry children cannot concentrate in school, leading to limited opportunities as adults to make a respectable living. Due to a lack of nourishment, hungry children tend to get sick more often. This puts an additional strain on the family, both in terms of the need to find care for the child as well as the extra medical expenses, which poor families cannot afford.
Also, at-risk youth can easily fall into a life of crime. Stealing food is not uncommon when one is hungry. Impoverished people often turn to drugs to get numb to both the hunger and the need to face the difficult challenges of their lives.
Rena said she grew up in a lower-class family. “We didn’t have much, but we had enough,” she said. “But now it has become impossible for me to feed my child.”
Visiting Rena’s one-bedroom apartment adds to the sadness. The peeling paint and dilapidated furniture are a reflection of their struggles. Opening their refrigerator, one finds a pitcher of water, a half loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter.
“I go every day to Meir Panim’s soup kitchen to eat lunch,” said Rena. “I bring containers in my bag and the workers allow me to take food home for Shira. Without their help, I don’t know what I would do.”
“It costs just under $1,000 a year to provide one daily warm meal to a child,” explained Sternbuch. “The more people support our network of social welfare programs, the more we can ease the pain and burden on struggling families, especially the children.”
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Written in cooperation with Meir Panim