Ask Miriam | Prioritize Charitable Giving

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Dear Miriam,

What are your thoughts on how to prioritize charitable giving during this crisis?


Pandemic Priorities

Dear Priorities,

These are exceptional and exceptionally difficult times, and asking these questions is already an important step to helping people in need. Helping people is the priority, and there’s no real wrong way to do that. Giving tzedakah — charitable donations — is a hugely important Jewish value at all times, and the myriad of needs emerging during the pandemic is hard to navigate for so many reasons. 

Because this is a global emergency and you can’t help everyone, I’d encourage you to consider those in your immediate surroundings first.

Feeding people is crucial, and the rising unemployment statistics mean that many people are struggling to feed themselves and their families. Local food pantries and community-based nonprofits are good choices because they are already operating in communities and understand the needs on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis. If you don’t already know how food insecurity is addressed by organizations local to where you live, now is a great time to learn about such nonprofits and to support them.

There are other crisis-specific ways to give, such as supporting organizations supplying personal protective equipment to health care professionals, providing cloth masks to grocery store workers, paying for meals for people on the front lines and many more. I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention that our Jewish Federation has its own Coronavirus Emergency Fund, which you can read about and donate to here

If you already have organizations that you support in a typical year, I would encourage you to think about how to structure your giving so that you can still support them. Jewish communal organizations, arts and cultural institutions, social service organizations (even those that can’t operate right now) and so many other nonprofits are struggling to make ends meet, as none of them can raise money in the ways they’re used to. 

As their usual supporters either reprioritize to support more immediate basic needs or reduce their amount of giving due to their own financial struggles, the whole world of philanthropy is going to be shaken up in ways that aren’t yet clear. Still, if we want places we love to exist after this crisis is over, we have to find ways to support them, too, even if the needs don’t seem as immediate as feeding people. When I think about the places I miss going to, I know which places I want to help survive.

There are yet other categories, unexpected and non-traditional, like paying nannies and house cleaners for staying home, helping a friend cover rent, generously tipping grocery delivery workers and buying gift cards to restaurants to help them stay in business. These may not be tzedakah, exactly, but they are ways to spend money that are particular to this moment and where your dollars will really count. 

Finally, if you’re getting a stimulus check, think about whether you need it right now for your family — and there’s no shame if you do  — or if you can give some part of that away. If you usually give most of your tzedakah at the end of the calendar year, assess whether you can give more sooner. Do what you can do, give what you can give. That’s really all anyone can do right now.

Be well,



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