Jews locally and around the world recently celebrated Passover -- a holiday resonant with themes of exodus and freedom. Thanks to the success of Project Warmth, a philanthropic initiative launched this winter through the generosity of the Madlyn and Leonard Abramson Family Foundation, 750 low-income members of the Greater Philadelphia Jewish community (657 adults and 93 children) were liberated from the icy chill of the season, and were empowered to purchase brand-new coats and other winter apparel with vouchers redeemable at select Burlington Coat Factory stores throughout the Greater Philadelphia area.
This extraordinary program was the result of a rather ordinary conversation between Madlyn Abramson and her grandson, who was getting ready to leave the house and go out in the cold without a coat.
"My husband, Leonard, overheard my conversation and suggested that we should help our fellow Jews, who, because of the poor economic climate, cannot afford winter clothing for themselves or their loved ones," she said.
The couple deliberated about the most effective ways to reach out to those in greatest need in a manner that respected each potential recipient's privacy and dignity.
After consultation with Leonard Barrack, president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, the Abramsons made a generous gift to Federation through the Madlyn and Leonard Abramson Family Foundation to immediately launch this unique voucher program. Federation worked with its community partners in identifying and distributing vouchers to eligible individuals.
Why did the Abramsons select Federation to manage this project?
"We knew that Federation is an organization that places a high priority on services for older adults and families at risk," said Madlyn Abramson, who was gratified that more than 970 vouchers were distributed "to those who needed them the most."
The couple received countless "thank you" notes from recipients, whose names were altered to protect their identity.
An older adult who lives in an apartment operated by Federation Housing Inc. expressed her " ... sincere thanks for your help, attention and concern for elderly people. ... "
A single mother receiving food services from Jewish Relief Agency expressed her gratitude to Project Warmth for "the beautiful, wonderful coats that I was able to purchase thanks to your generosity."
She added that "my children were very happy, and I feel comforted that they are well-protected from the elements."
And the new coat that one senior citizen living on a fixed income purchased with her voucher "made me feel like a million dollars."
She said that "I have not been able to purchase a new coat in many years and, thanks to you, I was warm and comfortable all winter long."
"Federation applauds and appreciates the vision, passion and generosity shown by Madlyn and Leonard and their family foundation," said Barrack, who hopes that the success of the project that was sparked by their philanthropy will inspire others.
"We are experiencing one of the most challenging economic times in our history," and as such, "it is incumbent upon each and every one of us to step up to the plate to help our fellow Jews, whose lives have been dramatically altered by the current economic crisis," he said.
"The winter may be over, but the crisis continues year-round for those who struggle with poverty and hunger," Barrack continued, exhorting readers to "follow the Abramsons' example and demonstrate the collective power of a caring community to make a difference through gifts to Federation."
Madlyn Abramson also commented on the issue.
"Leonard and I," she explained, "hope that the expediency and effectiveness of this project will encourage and inspire other major community philanthropists to fund similar projects -- projects that truly impact the most needy and deserving members of our community."
For more information, call Carol Weener at 215-832-0521.