"Everybody thinks it's a done deal," lamented Laurel Katz, the South Philadelphia resident organizing the group of about 30 volunteers and supporters of the center. But there's still a real chance to stop the closure, she asserted.
"It is the seniors who are going to get hurt -- everybody who is at the Stiffel -- it is putting a loss in their lives," said Katz, a 50-something South Philadelphia resident who volunteers at the Porter Street building, which serves about 400 individuals.
Of those, about 150 are elderly Jews, most of whom come from outside the area, a sign of the demographic changes in the once strongly Jewish neighborhood.
Closing the center, she said, will take away a valuable resource and remove a sense of community from low-income seniors, both Jewish and non-Jewish. It will also mark the loss of a historic building that has played a role in the lives of several generations of Jewish Philadelphians, said Katz.
Officials at the Klein JCC -- which has overseen the Stiffel since the breakup of the central office of the Jewish Community Centers two years ago -- said financial and demographic realities have left the agency little choice but to close the site.
The Klein board decided to close the center at a meeting back in April. Officials say that arrangements are being made for Stiffel participants to go to three other nearby centers and to continue to provide kosher meals and other services for those in need.
The expected date for closure is now July 31.
According to the Klein JCC, the Stiffel is operating at an annual deficit of $200,000. At the same time, the building -- which opened in 1928 and is now owned by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia -- needs about $400,000 worth of repairs.
According to Raechel Hammer, a vice president at the Klein JCC who is working closely with Save Our Stiffel, the group needs to collect $200,000 in pledges by June 30. In addition, they have to come up with commitments from donors to fund the Stiffel on an annual basis.
The initiative has so far raised $15,000, according to Hammer and Katz.
The group is planning a June 22 evening fundraiser at the center to bolster its cause.
"We all know this is not going to be the thing that saves us," Katz said, referring to the fundraiser. "It's going to be a couple wealthy people who open up their checkbooks."
If the group succeeds in its mission, the Klein board will revisit its decision to close the Stiffel, said Hammer.
"We need long-term financial commitments to provide financial stability for that senior center," said Hammer.
Hammer said that if Save Our Stiffel is not successful in raising the required amount, then all donations under $1,000 will be used to fund alternative senior programming, such as a Yiddish club, in South Philadelphia.
For gifts over $1,000, the donors will be contacted and asked if they want to go forward with the donation.
"We are hoping that long-term funding partners are found to allow us to continue the operations of the Stiffel Senior Center," said Andre Krug, CEO and president of Klein & Stiffel JCCs.
But regardless of the success of the Save Our Stiffel campaign, he added, Klein will "make sure that community members in South Philadelphia receive support."