As Israel emerges from one of the country’s wettest – and coldest – winters, aid groups in some of the country’s poorest municipalities are reporting that the needs of local residents have soared.

In the northern city of Safed, known to tourists for its collection of old synagogues but to government planners for a per capita income a full 30 percent below the national average, the local branch of the Colel Chabad social welfare organization estimated that more than 200 children received new shoes through its assistance, more than 600 blankets, coats and winter outfits were distributed to locals, and more than 500 families received financial assistance to help pay heating bills.

Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Yoram Mauda, director of the Safed office of Colel Chabad – which the first Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, founded in 1788 to help residents of the Holy Land – said that winter struck with a vengeance throughout Israel’s north. Just two weeks ago, residents in Safed saw snow.

As in past years, the organization used a combination of direct and indirect aid to mitigate the cold. Among the programs, local kindergarten and elementary school teachers discreetly gave coupons to children who were still wearing summer sandals or torn shoes from the previous year so that their parents could purchase new shoes.

“We want to give people the help they need, but at the same time we want them to maintain their high standards of dignity and self-esteem,” said Mauda, explaining why the coupons proved popular with clients.

Among this season’s ailments, influenza – both swine flu and its less virulent cousin – sent large swaths of people to clinics and hospitals. To help patients who couldn’t afford the taxi ride, Colel Chabad provided free transporation.

Orit K.’s husband was hospitalized for a week. The service allowed her to visit him, while other assistance allowed her to pay the bills that piled up.

“My friends told me to ask my relatives to help me during this difficult time,” she said, “but I answered that already have my family here – Colel Chabad – helping.”

H. K., a single mother of eight, described the level of care provided by Mauda and his staff as “like a parent who loves his child.”

The woman described how the organization intervened in extreme cases to prevent families’ utilities from being disconnected.

“They don’t simply hand out a check and wish you on your way,” she said. “They take the time to ask how we are all feeling. They hand out treats to my children. They make sure we leave the office with smiles on our faces.”