Fugee Fridays is a volunteer humanitarian initiative, founded in 2008 in response to the acute distress of the growing community of African asylum seekers living in Tel Aviv. Our purpose is to help address this community’s immediate needs while nurturing their independence, raising awareness of their plight, fostering positive cultural exchange between Israelis and Africans living in Israel and empowering both the refugee community and our volunteers. We organize a number of projects for the benefit of the African community, including food collection from the Carmel Market, language classes, children’s activities and a growing list of community development projects. Everything we do is guided by our belief in simple, elegant problem-solving which connects urgent needs with available and sustainable solutions. We hope that, by setting a personal example, we can inspire others to create similar social action projects that benefit their communities.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Genesis of Fugee Fridays

By Jesse Fox

The initiative started in February 2008, when we heard that Levinsky Park, across from the New Central Bus Station, had become a sort of improvised refugee camp. This was during the height of the wave of African refugees arriving in Israel, and new people were arriving in Tel Aviv every day.

We were aware of the large amounts of fresh food that were discarded every Friday at the Carmel Market, and here were hundreds of hungry people who could benefit from that food – and thus Fugee Fridays was born.

The first time that we collected food at the Market, we brought it directly to the park. While this proved to be a chaotic business, we quickly realized that the refugees had their own ways of distributing the food so that everyone got fed. We also noticed that much of the food that we brought remained untouched, since the Africans had never seen certain vegetables, such as avocado, broccoli and cauliflower.

We drew several conclusions from this first trip. One was that, while (to their credit) Israelis had been bringing massive amounts of old clothes, furniture and household goods to the area as donations to the refugees, there was a limit to how many clothes were needed. In fact, during the winter months we even saw huge heaps of clothes piling up on corners around south Tel Aviv – there were just too many donated items for their needs.

Another conclusion was that it was best to bring the food that we collected directly to the shelters where the refugees lived, instead of dropping it off at the park. We contacted organizations that worked with the refugees and made connections with other volunteers, and found out where the shelters were and how many people lived there.
Today, we deliver food every Friday to three shelters: a shelter for Darfuri men on the Neve Sha’anan pedestrian mall and two apartment complexes housing Eritrean and Sudanese families in the Shapira neighborhood. In recent weeks, we have also begun dropping off boxes with mixed vegetables and fruits to the refugees’ neighbors, families who live in the area and could also use a little help.

The Carmel Market’s vendors, who know us by now, are pretty generous with their donations. Most of the produce that we collect would likely end up in the dumpster, despite being good, fresh, nutritious food.

Today, we have a mailing list of about 55 volunteers, and several volunteers who transport the food to the shelters in their cars. The refugee families know us, and we have also become friends with their kids. At the end of every Friday, everyone converges on a certain shelter in Shapira, where we play with the kids until nightfall.

Jesse Fox is an urban planner, environmental writer and cofounder of Fugee Fridays.

click HERE to view this article on Haartez.com

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