Jewish Federation Launches Coronavirus Campaign for Jewish Nonprofits

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A woman at the Northeast NORC pantry holds a bag of food.
A woman at the Mitzvah Food Program Northeast holds a pantry bag of food”. (Courtesy of Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia)

The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia announced on March 19 the creation of a COVID-19 emergency campaign “to help fund the most vulnerable in our community,” during the crisis.

The chair of the Jewish Federation’s Emergency Response Committee, Holly Nelson, said during a Zoom webinar that the campaign will provide to people in need while social distancing measures are in place.

The campaign raised more than $500,000 through March 23 and is seeking donations and volunteers who are able to go grocery shopping and deliver packages. All funds raised will go directly to social service agencies and people in need.

On March 23, the Crisis Management Committee approved the following initial allocations from the fund:

  • $34,600 to KleinLife’s Meal Delivery Program. Volunteer groups that have prepared meals are no longer able to do so. KleinLife thus needs to buy 1,500 kosher meals per week from Betty the Caterer, its kosher meal supplier. KleinLife staff and volunteers will deliver the meals to 550 seniors.
  • $25,000 to Jewish Family and Children’s Service for critical needs grants. The grants for 50 people will average $500 and go for basics such as food, rent and medical/health needs.
  • $20,700 to the Mitzvah Food Program. This will help cover added costs to run five pantries related to increased food needs, staff costs due to loss of volunteers and staff, and equipment and cleaning costs.
  • $1,500 to the Philadelphia Friendship Circle for a critical needs discretionary fund. The money will help the families of children with disabilities in crisis for paying basic necessities such as rent, food, utilities and support staff.

The Jewish Federation is clear that this is just the beginning of grants and considerations, with evaluations continuing as the crisis emerges and evolves. To donate, people can go to jewishphilly.org/donate-now-covid-19-emergency-fund.

“This is an unprecedented time that demands an extraordinary response,” said Jewish Federation Board Chair Susanna Lachs Adler. “At this moment, we know the financial needs facing us will be significant. With your generosity, we will be able to ensure the safety and strength of our Jewish communities and those most directly affected by the risks presented.”

Meantime, Nicola Mammes, regional preparedness program manager for the City of Philadelphia, spoke about new public health information resources during a follow-up Jewish Federation-hosted
webinar the next day.

According to Mammes, the city has created a text alert system for pandemic updates that is accessible by texting COVIDPHL to 888777. Anyone with questions about COVID-19 can call 1-800-722-7112 for a new 24/7 free hotline staffed by medical professionals. The city’s Public Health Department website also features daily updates at phila.gov/COVID-19. Residents of Philadelphia and the surrounding suburbs can sign up for the alerts.

Mammes advised everyone to stay home and self-quarantine to prevent the spread of the virus due to the limited number of tests.

“Right now, we are trying to triage because there is limited testing available nationwide,” she said.

In addition, Brian Gralnick, director of social responsibility at Jewish Federation, discussed the challenges faced by the agency’s social service providers. COVID-19 has placed additional strain on Meals on Wheels and Mitzvah Food Pantries since there is both an increased demand for meals for those confined to their homes and a shortage of volunteers.

“Many of our volunteers are themselves older adults who have decided to quarantine and shelter in place for their own safety,” Gralnick said. “We are in desperate need of help to deliver nonperishable food using the ‘knock, drop and go’ approach.” Volunteers who usually enter clients’ homes during visits will instead leave deliveries with as little contact as possible.

Addie Klein, Jewish Federation’s director of community engagement, reminded webinar viewers that Jewish Federation organizations serve both Jews and non-Jews.

“We support these Jewish agencies, and they support both our community and the broader community,” she said.

Gralnick also addressed social isolation among older adults, which was a problem before COVID-19.

“The health consequences of social isolation are equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day,” he said.

In response, Jewish Federation is launching the virtual volunteer initiative, Phone-a-Friend. Callers will reach out to an isolated older adult in the community two to three times a week and share feedback if they think the person needs additional support.

Psychotherapist Esther Kaplin provided advice about maintaining physical and mental health during periods of social isolation.

“Stay informed, and do not obsessively check the news … limit your time to 30 minutes a day, at most,” she advised. Kaplin also recommended eating a healthy and balanced diet, drinking plenty of fluids and staying in touch with family and friends via video to combat anxiety and depression.

Jewish Federation Chief Operating Officer Steven Rosenberg closed both webinars by referencing his childhood in Pittsburgh and being inspired by Fred Rogers’ ethos to “look for the helper” in times of trouble.

“This is an unprecedented situation,” he said. “But we have been here for 119 years, and we plan to be here for another 119.”

For updates, resources and volunteer opportunities, visit jewishphilly.org/COVID-19.

[email protected]; 215-832-0729

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