Jesse Fox and a Fugee Friday volunteer, in Tel Aviv, loading surplus food from Carmel Market into a car, ready to distribute to African refugees living in the city. Photo Credit: Daniel Cherrin.
When Jesse Fox, an urban planning student from Tel Aviv decided to find a way to combine social justice with his passion for the environment, it was, he says: “Just connecting the dots.” Today Fox is one of four founders of a young grassroots project called Fugee Fridays.
The group’s mission is to distribute the surplus of Tel Aviv’s Friday Carmel food market — which would otherwise go to waste — to hungry African refugees who fled to Israel on foot to escape persecution. In recent years, there have been literally thousands of African refugees who have come to Israel from countries such as Sudan and Eritrea.
In an attempt to rebuild their lives, they eventually come to a Tel Aviv refugee shelter, and without any government aid, local heroes like Fox and other volunteer organizations step up to the “plate” to help.
Good green social sense
“We knew that while perfectly good food was being thrown away at the vegetable market every Friday, a short distance away the refugees had nothing to eat,” Fox tells ISRAEL21c. And what started out last February with four friends — two sets of brothers — plus a borrowed car from a girlfriend, has ballooned into an 80 plus group of volunteers in Tel Aviv.
Says Fox: “I had written a post for a local blog, asking why the Carmel Market throws out so much trash – which is not really trash. Why not use it to feel hungry people? It’s a way to merge both green and social activism.”
Within 10 months, Fox and his crew are not only feeding people, they have collected a dedicated team of volunteers who are also giving nutrition to the soul. “Honestly it’s fun. We get new people to help us volunteer all the time, and we’ve gotten close to the kids,” Fox says.
Apart from rounding up food from the market, Fox and his friends are lining up volunteers who are willing to help teach the refugees English, or treat them with free medical care. Sometimes they just take the African kids out of the cramped shelters to the beach.
“They have no luck, they have no jobs,” says Fox, noting that some of the men who work at the market are now consistently giving away perfectly good food to the refugees out of compassion. One is Pinchas who has a vegetable stand in the middle of the souk. “We are grateful to those merchants at the shook that give us donations every week.”
Avocado, broccoli anyone?
In the beginning, however, none of the African refugees had any idea what to do with vegetables like broccoli and avocado. “A box of avocados was just sitting there and nobody touched it,” laughs Fox.
Today the African refugees and needy Israelis living in the south Tel Aviv neighborhood are all getting treated to fresh produce, and Fox through Fugee Fridays, is setting up a way for people who are looking to give donations to do so via the registered charity Brit Olam.
Fugee Fridays was founded by Fox, his brother Steven, and brothers Daniel and Gilli Cherrin. Fox grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina and now studies urban planning at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa.
“We also feed the neighbors and make a bunch of mixed boxes every week. Some people were asking us, how come we’re just feeding the black Africans and not the Jews? We get more food than we know what do with,” concludes Fox, who estimates over 100 people enjoy the market gleanings every week.