In addition to Israel’s outstanding high-tech culture, there are also a lot of low-tech programs worth hearing about. Uga B’Haftaa (Cakes by Surprise) is a simple volunteer project that has spread across Israel, matching 3,000 volunteers with 3,000 senior citizens in 16 different cities.
The brainchild of Tal Harel, the program matches up volunteers who go to meet with lonely seniors and bring a cake with them, which turns the visit into a social one, without any of the embarrassing emotional baggage attached to food delivery or prepared meals. By bringing a cake, the volunteer creates the opportunity to be invited in for a cup of coffee or tea and some conversation, which is really what the isolated seniors are looking for, the connection with other people.
Tal came up with the idea after a post-army service trip to Australia when she began delivering food packages from the municipality in her hometown of Holon to homebound seniors during the COVID-19 pandemic. She noticed that many of the older recipients were very lonely and literally “starving” for interaction, to the extent that some even asked her to bring family and friends next time she came. When Tal arrived at one of her “clients” with a home baked cake, the woman’s face lit up and the rest is history.
Initially, when Tal posted her idea on Facebook, she only received four likes. Soon after though, she already had 80 volunteers ready to deliver cakes to 120 seniors in Holon before each Jewish holiday and today the organization has spread country-wide.
New volunteers are matched up with someone in their city or nearby, usually recommended by the local welfare department, word of mouth or by family members who live too far away. Many of the recipients are Holocaust survivors too. Around 50% of the volunteers are parents who bring their children along to the visit and the other 50% are high school and university students.
The project has generated a lot of buzz and the media and VIPs from all across the country have gotten behind it, with companies starting to donate money, products and even staff to help out. Wix donated the organization’s website and a dedicated app helps coordinate communications and logistics because despite their name, the volunteers never want to show and surprise their friends and each visit is coordinated with the recipient.
When corporate employees, soldiers or youth groups want to participate, Tal coordinates visits to senior citizen day programs instead of individuals.
Tal’s future plans are to hopefully increase the visits to a weekly basis and someday to do this full-time. As she says: “All of us will be elderly one day and we need a solution for loneliness.” Kudos to Tal for showing everyone that you can make a major impact on the world, even with a lowtech cake and some conversation.