Upcoming Papal Visit Inspires Ecumenical Outreach

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A new nonprofit initiative will provide funds to deserving organizations across the faith spectrum.

The impending visit of Pope Francis to Philadelphia in September is sparking all manner of preparations, events and programs designed to both honor the pontiff and his commitment to helping the less fortunate. One of those just-created programs will soon be helping a local Jewish organization expand its own outreach.
 
With a goal of raising $1.5 million to benefit local organizations combatting homelessness and hunger, Project HOME and the World Meeting of Families Hunger and Homelessness Committee have joined together to create the Francis Fund to provide funds and needed resources to various organizations “for the purpose of alleviating hunger, poverty and homelessness in Philadelphia and Camden.”
 
A committee involved with fundraising efforts of the Francis Fund sent out invitations for grant proposals to various organizations in the community that fit these characteristics.
 
Among the 40-plus organizations submitting a proposals explaining how they would use grants from the fund to provide for hunger relief and homelessness was Jewish Family and Children’s Service.
 
JFCS was specifically asked to participate because the committee wanted Jewish organizations to be included in the recipients, said Pia Eisenberg, vice president of institutional advancement at JFCS, which she added shows the diversity of these organizations.
 
“We were invited by somebody on the committee to submit a proposal, which just confirmed that this is an interfaith effort,” Eisenberg said.
 
Sister Mary Scullion, executive director of Project HOME and chair of the Hunger and Homelessness Committee that selected the recipients of the fund, said JFCS was an example of the kind of organizations that demonstrated the goals of the Francis Fund.
 
“In the Philadelphia area, there are so many faith-based organizations like Jewish Family and Children’s Service or others that do such an amazing job of reaching out to those who are struggling in our community,” she said. “We wanted to provide them with gifts that would increase their capacity of achieving their missions.”
 
Within two weeks of submitting their proposal, JFCS was notified that it was receiving the $65,000 grant it asked for. 
 
The grant JFCS received will be divided into two main areas: $15,000 will go toward hunger relief, particularly toward providing supermarket gift cards to clients in need, and the remaining $50,000 will benefit its new Children’s Den, which will provide childcare for parents “working to get the appropriate entitlements they need to stabilize,” Eisenberg said. 
 
The Children’s Den is one of the organization’s biggest projects at the moment, and the grant will certainly help, she explained. The facility aims to provide a place for children while their parents are in meetings with social workers to get the help they need. Eisenberg emphasized that it is not a daycare. 
 
“Our clients who deal with all of these bumps in the road — our social workers are able to connect them to entitlements and public assistance,” she said. “We will be able to have their children be in the Children’s Den while they are getting services.”
 
JFCS is celebrating a landmark achievement this year, which made the notification about the grant even more special, added Eisenberg. “It’s very exciting that the Francis Fund is supporting a Jewish organization and supporting Jewish Family and Children’s Service,
especially in our 160th year.”
 
She said JFCS’s mission of serving the community’s needs is very much aligned with Pope Francis, whom she says in particular is very in touch with what exactly the community’s needs are. 
 
The religious diversity among the participating organizations is a big part of the Francis Fund’s mission that particularly stands out to Eisenberg.
 
“An interfaith effort like this supporting a prominent milestone in the Philadelphia community, it feels very good,” she said, referencing the organization’s upcoming anniversary. 
 
Scullion, whose own organization is not receiving any of the money raised, said there are four Jewish organizations benefiting from the Francis Fund and the committee felt that JFCS was worthy of receiving the grant because of the work it does. 
 
“They’re reaching the needs of those who are struggling in their community in a passionate and effective way,” she said. “We thought they would be a great recipient.”
 
The grants are contingent upon fundraising efforts from the Francis Fund, but that doesn’t worry Eisenberg, who said there is “no reason to believe they won’t be successful in their fundraising.”
 
Scullion added that the Francis Fund is off to a “great start,” already having raised more than $700,000 of its goal. 
 
 
[email protected]; (215-832-0740).
 

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