October 20, 2019

No Sandwich Left Behind

Rotem Yosef Giladi

Rotem Yosef Giladi, the young, idealistic CEO of the Israeli nonprofit Nevet, wants to go out of business. “My dream — the vision of Nevet — is to make legislation in the Knesset that will provide breakfast [to Israeli school children] through the Ministry of Education.”

Nevet provides 1.2 million breakfast sandwiches to kids every year, across 130 schools and to more than 8,000 students a day. “Before I came to Nevet, I wasn’t aware of how many people actually come to school with no food,” Giladi said. 

In Israel, most children bring a sandwich to eat during their 10 a.m. break. Typically, this will be their first meal of the day. In elementary school, children eat together in the classroom with their teachers. They are then allowed to leave the classroom on their own for 30 minutes. The standard school day ends at 1 or 2 p.m., when it is assumed the students will go home and eat lunch.

So what happens to the boy whose mom didn’t pack him a sandwich or to the girl who doesn’t have any food in her fridge at home? That student not only goes hungry but experiences shame, embarrassment, often has disciplinary problems, poorer grades and more school absences. With just one sandwich every day, that child has a better chance at academic and personal success. 

If Giladi gets her way, the education ministry will provide, and expand the distribution of, these essential breakfast sandwiches, just as the government did when her parents and grandparents were schoolchildren. “This is a problem we can really resolve,” she said. “We can start and finish the job.”

With a dual degree in law and government from the prestigious Interdisciplinary Center, and a stint as a legal intern on the Knesset’s welfare committee, Giladi understands the delicate dance between the Israeli government and the nonprofit sector, or as Israelis often call it, the third sector. She joined Nevet as the director of resource development and quickly became the CEO, helping guide the strategic direction of the former subsidiary of the well-known Israeli national food bank, Leket Israel.  But more than the know-how is the heart. 

Once Nevet convinces the Israeli government to provide breakfast for all school children, Rotem Yosef Giladi will move on to working with the elderly.

As an officer in the army in charge of soldiers during their basic training, Giladi had a bird’s-eye view of Israeli society. “You see people at the age of 18 and what they are dealing with. I didn’t have that kind of childhood; I had everything I needed,” she said. And once her eyes were opened, she was inspired to take action. “This is the place where I started seeing I have a lot to give. I have privileges that not everyone has.”

As someone who is “always thinking about what’s next,” Giladi already is planning her next move. Once Nevet convinces the Israeli government to provide breakfast for all school children, she will move on to working with the elderly. 

“My passion is really about the loneliness of this community. This is a community that a lot of people forget about [and] don’t feel comfortable approaching. It is important to be with them in their last years.”

Acutely aware of the need to care for our most vulnerable citizens, Giladi said, “When I was a kid, I had a lot of dreams about changing the world. As you get older, it gets more difficult.” 

But the challenges of society’s complex problems don’t deter her. She just takes
it one child, one sandwich, one problem at a time.