Ifat Hatzav

For many of us, there is 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 the meal that sustained us for years and is a staple of school lunchrooms all over the world.

The simplicity of the 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 have nothing.

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. The bigger issue is that a hungry child is 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 led 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 often it is because they are missing something. It might be emotional or physical but just as often, it’s that they’re hungry.

Through that realization, NEVET was created in 2006. NEVET is an organization that provides as many hungry children as possible with a nutritious sandwich, discretely distributed in school. Their goal is 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.

Today, NEVET takes 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 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 the 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% reported significant academic and behavioral improvement since the sandwich program was implemented. This included a reduction in incidences of violence on school grounds and 89% of the schools showed higher attendance rates — indicating that the children were dependent on the school to provide them with food for the day.

As of November 2022, Nevet works 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, 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 about additional students who need support.

But not every problem requires a complex solution. Sometimes it can be nothing more than the humble sandwich. JN

Ifat Hatzav lives in Hod Hasharon, Israel, and is a volunteer with Nevet.