JERUSALEM, Israel -- Almost two million Israelis live below the poverty level, including more than a third of the country's children. However, one charity is using a biblical principle to fill in the gaps.
'Gleaning' for Israel's Needy
Leket is Hebrew for gleaning and that is exactly what the Israeli charity Leket Israel is doing.
Volunteers from Israel and abroad give their time to glean fields and orchards. They pick fresh fruits and vegetables that are later distributed to the poor.
Leket Israel leader Gideon Kroch points to the Bible as the inspiration for this project.
"The idea of gleaning originally is biblical," Kroch explained. "It's part of how you treat the poor and the needy, the Jewish way to treat the poor and the needy. You leave a section of the field and then the poor and the needy can come and that's the original biblical sense of Leket."
One biblical example is Ruth who gleaned in the fields of Boaz.
Kroch says after some 2,000 farmers harvest their crops they allow the volunteers to glean the fields.
Each month volunteers pick roughly 500 tons of Grade-A produce. It's then distributed to organizations which help the needy.
Recently, Leket organized a day of gleaning for the whole family. At least 1,500 volunteers gathered 10 tons of butternut squash and 15 tons of oranges. That produce will reach about 5,000 needy Israelis.
"It's quite a nice number, but there are a lot of needy people looking for it," Koch said.
Youth groups, soldiers, employees of big companies and even Christian groups from overseas are among the 50,000 volunteers who hit the fields for a day each year.
Project manager Yedidiyah Rosenberg helps show volunteers how to pick and says they learn more than just working in the field.
"It educates people to give and to open their eyes to what's happening around them and to give to other people," Rosenberg said.
One family brought more than 35 family members and friends to Israel for vacation. They gave up a day of rest to glean.
"We all decided that one day of our vacation we wanted to spend and be part of the country, be part of Israel and do something with the land that we can help the people," they said.
Tepfer says it's exciting for young and old alike.
"It's an experience. It's work. You see. You wind up being in the heat and sweating and enjoying it. We came with our children. We have people of all ages from babies till grandfathers," Tepfer said.
Devorah Lowinger, 11, says helping makes her happy.
"I'm picking fruits and vegetables to give to the poor people," she said. "It makes me feel so good that I can help people and that they can get stuff that they can't get."
Reconnecting to Their Roots
Kroch says that besides feeding the poor, gleaning helps Israelis reconnect to their agricultural roots.
"It makes people happy and that's why a lot of people come also because it talks about the old values in the past that we had in the past, you know working the fields, connecting to the land and stuff, connecting to Israel, which is very important for us," Kroch explained.
Still, Rosenberg says the most important thing is working together to help others.
"I think the most important thing is a big charity project that's helping thousands of people all over Israel under the poverty line with the most basic fruits and vegetables and foods that people need with the combination of using volunteers that can really come here and contribute," he said. "And also, like I said, it's an educational program."
**Originally aired October 23, 2009.