map-of-israel-black- Kiryat Shmona

  • Location: Kiryat Shmona, Northern Israel (near the Lebanese border)
  • Kiryat Shmona is a strategic city for Israel.  Many soldiers pass through here as they go to various bases.
  • The Canteen exists to offer free food and comfort to traveling soldiers.
  • Due to the poor condition of this establishment, the government mandated that it be shut down.
  • Within a few days' time, the Almond Branch team went in and completely refurbished the whole place, saving it from being shut down.
  • Today, many soldiers are thankful to Almond Branch as they continue to receive free food and refreshments on their journeys.

 

 

Being Israel's Northern most city, Kiryat Shmona, with a population of just over 23,000, is prone to rocket fire and hostile attacks from Israel's neighbor, Lebanon.  The newly reconstructed Canteen serves as a morale boost for the IDF soldiers as it meets their needs for rest, refreshment and food.  Many soldiers live below the poverty line and do not have finances to buy food while on their journeys across the country.  The Almond Branch Initiative was able to fully refurbish the Canteen, including a new roof, upgraded electrical service, a deck and doubled the usable space of the facility.

 

For more information, click here.

map-of-israel-black- SDEROT
  

  • Location: Sderot, Israel (less than a mile from Gaza.
  • Sderot is a depressed location due to frequent rockets fired from the Gaza strip.
  • Sderot has one of the highest post-traumatic stress (PTSD) incident rates in Israel due to the rocket fire it receives.
  • We rebuilt an abandoned children’s park in Sderot’s city center, bordered a large elementary school.
  • We had opportunities to distribute humanitarian aid items and be an encouragement to all.

 

 

Once populated by 30,000 people, Sderot’s remaining 19,000 people live in a state of constant fear due to frequent missile attacks from their neighbor, Gaza.  The Almond Branch team donated time, money and hard work to rebuild an abandoned park near the center of this city.  As the project was underway, many local families and children came to join our team in an attempt to better the community.  We also constructed wooden pergolas to provide shade, picnic tables for families to gather around and created two memorial areas; one dedicated to 4 year old Afik Zahavi, and the other one in remembrance of all those who have lost their lives as a result of Qassam missile attacks.  Today, the park is used regularly by the children and families of Sderot.

For more information, click here.

There are units that are serving in extremely cold areas. Out of the hundreds of young men and women serving there are many of them that cannot afford a basic winter fleece. Almond Branch proudly donated 300 winter fleeces to the young cadets in January 2011. It was an amazing opportunity to meet a tangible need as well provide the chance to bring encouragement and hope. We look forward to similar outreaches in the future.

Missile fire from Gaza began against Sderot and the western Negev in January, 2001. Since then, more than 10,000 Kassam and Ketusha rockets have pummeled Israel’s southern region. Twenty-eight Israelis have died in these attacks; nine of them lived in Sderot, and 3 of those were children. Additionally, more than 600 Israelis have been injured and thousands have been psychologically traumatized by the rocket explosions. The western Negev and especially Sderot bear the physical scars of these attacks – many homes, schools, businesses and synagogues have been damaged, and great economic hardship has fallen upon the individuals and families living in these areas.

Once populated by 30,000 people, Sderot’s remaining 19,000 residents live 2.5 kilometers from Gaza.  More than any other group in Israel, they absorb most of Gaza’s missiles, which have forced thousands to abandon the city and relocate elsewhere.

Sderot has one of the highest post traumatic stress (PTSD) incident rates in Israel due to the rocket fire it receives. One of the local trauma centers “treats 620 patients, of whom 80% are children”, according to the center’s director Daliah Yosef. And that center is in danger of closing due to lack of funding.  The Sderot Mental Health Center, which treats victims 18 years and older, has more than 6,000 trauma victim files.

Since the Gaza incursion in January 2009, international news has led many to conclude that the negotiated ceasefire was successful, since so little has been reported about the ongoing rocket fire. However, more than 240 rockets have targeted Sderot and the western Negev since the ceasefire began in January, 2009.

After visiting Sderot in October 2008 and May 2009 we found the people resilient, incredibly warm and welcoming, though in great need of support, encouragement, and hope.  Many told us their feelings of being forgotten, abandoned by the world.   Yet they have tried to make the best of a terrifying situation. Due to Sderot’s proximity to Gaza, residents have 17 seconds to seek cover from incoming kassams. In order to survive, children’s playing fields are surrounded by bomb shelters, rocket proof roofs are being built over elementary and high schools and each residential home must make room for their own private bomb shelter.

In May, we had the privilege of meeting Sderot’s new Vice Mayor.  His new administration has been working hard to repair the immense damage caused by rocket and mortar fire.  Money and willpower will fix that destruction, but the damage done to people’s lives isn’t easily repaired. 

Research and statistics provided by Sderot Media and Jacob Shrybman. 

During one of our visits to Sderot we met Ruth Zahavi, one of the first victims of the plague of kassam attacks.  On June 28, 2004 Ruth was taking her son, Afik, for a walk to register him for nursery school. In the days before the creation of the early warning system, Ruth and Afik were suddenly struck by a kassam rocket. Ruth was critically injured, losing her right leg, and Afik was killed. He would have been four years old that month.  Since then, emergency first responder teams have been created to deliver immediate assistance to victims; a city-wide alarm calling out “Tzeva Adom!” (“Color Red”) now warns Sderot’s residents of incoming rockets; and above-ground bomb shelters have been constructed throughout the city.  Residents have 17 seconds to find safety when the alarm sounds.  Nevertheless, the city lives in fear and suffers emotionally, financially, socially and spiritually. The people of Sderot need hope and the Almond Branch Initiative decided to bring that desperately needed encouragement.

We drew up plans to renew an abandoned children’s park near Sderot’s city center. The park is bordered by residential housing and a large elementary school. A grey cement bomb shelter stood ominously on its corner and the remnants of a broken down wooden jungle gym structure stood rotting. Children could be heard in the school next door, but the playground was unusable. Sderot’s youth have suffered greatly from PTSD, and Almond Branch decided to take on this project to bring life and hope back to the city, reminding them they have not been forgotten. Our organization partnered with 17 Americans who donated their own travel expenses. Totaling more than 49% of the cost of this project. The old gym set was torn down, the area re-cemented, covered in safety matting and a new, brightly colored jungle gym play area was reconstructed. We also created a toddler play area, painted crossed American and Israeli flags with the word “hope” written in English and Hebrew on the outside of the bomb shelter to remind the children and their families that America still stands with them. We also constructed wooden pergolas to provide shade, picnic tables for families to gather around and created two memorial areas; one dedicated to 4 year old Afik Zahavi, and the other one in remembrance of all those who have lost their lives as a result of kassam missile attacks. The entire cost of this project was $87,000, of which $42,750 was provided by our volunteers, who paid their own expenses.

While working on the park renewal project we’ll had the opportunity to distribute humanitarian aid items like food, clothing, medical supplies when able, toys for the children and encouragement to all.

This was an enormous project to undertake, but one that no doubt brought hope in the face of hardship to the residence of Sderot. In the midst of their fears, loss and trial we were able to remind them they have not been forgotten. 

 

Jill R. Petrie
President

During the 2006 war, 4,000 Ketusha rockets were fired into Israel by the Hizbollah rebels in Lebanon. 2,500 of those rockets fell on the far-northern city of Kiryat Shmona, creating enormous physical damage as well as emotional trauma, especially for young children. For this reason, much of our humanitarian outreach since August, 2006 has been in Kiryat Shmona.

Because of the security needs in this strategic Israeli city, thousands of Israeli Defense Force (IDF) soldiers pass through this area daily. Unlike the United States’ armed forces, there is very little money available to pay soldiers in the IDF. Prompted by a love for these young soldiers, seven IDF veterans started a small food and beverage stand in 1994, using volunteer labor and donated food, with the sole intent of offering a sandwich, a cold drink and a place to rest for each soldier who passes through.

Wear and tear and the effects of war made it necessary to rebuild the Canteen, which needed a total renovation. The plan was to expand and modernize this very modest but vital haven, upgrading the services offered to the soldiers.

Most Americans are surprised to learn that a very high percentage of Israel's population lives in poverty… 22% nationwide and an estimated 27% or higher in northern Israel. Because of this, many soldiers have very little money, but the Canteen enables them to receive food for themselves and often for their families, as they travel back home or to their northern bases.

The number of volunteers who make this project possible is staggering. More than 40 women, most of them over the age of 60, are involved daily with the preparation and distribution of food to hundreds of soldiers daily.

In the fall of 2008 the Canteen was within 48 hours of government-mandated shutdown, due to electrical and other building code violations. Almond Branch undertook this ambitious project, underwriting the financial burden, while partnering with eighteen Americans who donated their own travel expenses, which totaled more than 40% of the cost of the project. We redesigned and reconstructed the Canteen, adding a new roof, upgrading the electrical service, doubling the effective usable space, and adding a spacious exterior deck. The entire cost of this project, was $57,000, of which $23,000 was provided from volunteers, who paid for their own expenses.

We had the opportunity to return to Kiryat Shmona in April of 2009 and were blessed to see the canteen thriving and thousands of soldiers seeking food, rest and fellowship there. The deck doubled the capacity of space of the canteen.

Almond Branch Initiative provided the funds needed to fully equip Dr. Rita with complete emergency and surgical field equipment to be used during war times and during acts of terror. Dr. Rita is part of a volunteer program called First Responders. All medical professionals in this program serve on a volunteer basis and must therefore afford their own equipment. ABI not only paid for the medical supplies but also provided Dr. Rita with a bulletproof helmet and a flak jacket for her personal protection!


The following is the thank you letter we received from Dr. Rita:

Shalom Jill,

My name is Dr. Rita and I have received your donation of personal equipment during the Gaza operation.

During the recent conflict in the south of Israel, I, along with many other doctors, medical personnel, firefighters, rescue workers and just ordinary citizens of Israel, felt compelled by the terrible conditions and tremendous trauma that the residents of towns, villages and communities were forced to live under, to volunteer our services to give these brave men, women and children, and any all assistance that we could in order to make their lives just a little easier.

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