Shabbat will come tonight with all of us continuing to live under a new and unsettling reality.
Some in our community have tested positive for the virus or are worried about sick loved ones. Medical professionals are working tirelessly and at risk to themselves. Parents are at home, juggling children and work, trying to stay upbeat. But it’s our most vulnerable populations who will bear the brunt of both the health dangers and economic fallout — the elderly, people with disabilities, people on the verge of poverty who are now, or shortly will be, jobless as a result of the current situation.
To that end, yesterday UJA’s Board of Directors approved $23 million in emergency funding, and an additional grant to a multi-partner New York COVID-19 response fund. The funding will be used in the following ways:
1. Emergency Food: As the central hub of kosher food distribution, our partner Met Council has been inundated with requests from new clients, as well as from food pantry sites that have been forced to close. Met Council is being called on to serve homebound seniors who can no longer get meals at senior centers, as well as children who are not receiving city-funded hot meals. We’re allocating $1 million to Met Council to significantly expand its capacity to serve the community.
2. Passover Food for the Most Vulnerable: Right before this crisis hit, Met Council was gearing up to distribute Passover essentials to 181,000 people. Demands are rising, and the entire schedule has been moved up by two weeks in anticipation of a potential shutdown. We’re allocating an additional $750,000 to Met Council for emergency Passover food distribution.
3. Passover Meals-to-Go: Passover will be especially difficult for those who are newly isolated or quarantined, those who have relied on free or subsidized communal seders that will no longer be taking place, and those who are newly financially vulnerable. These populations do not qualify for government-funded food programs and would not likely take advantage of a food pantry. We’re allocating $250,000 to support free pre-made seders and subsidized pre-made seders.
4. COVID-19 Response & Impact Fund: We provided a grant and will serve on the steering committee of a multi-partner New York COVID-19 response fund led by the Ford Foundation and Bloomberg Philanthropies. Similar to one that proved very effective after 9/11, this consortium aims to support at-risk social service organizations as well as cultural institutions. As a member of the steering committee, we will be able to shape a grants program with enormous potential impact for our agencies and the sectors closest to our core mission.
5. Interest-Free Loans: We’re allocating $1 million to our partner the Hebrew Free Loan Society to support its loan program, which is playing an essential role in helping keep small businesses afloat through this crisis.
6. Loan Fund for Human Service Agencies: We’re allocating $20 million to create an interest-free loan fund at Hebrew Free Loan Society for agencies in our network that rely on government contracts to support human services. As agencies are forced to suspend, expand, or change services they provide, it is unclear how quickly government will be able to provide clarity about or payment on such contracts. This loan fund from UJA’s endowment will help provide those agencies with the cash flow to continue to run indispensable health and human services. All loans will be repaid when government payments are secured.
While these initial efforts are primarily directed to social service needs, we all know that the essential pillars of Jewish community — our network of Jewish community centers, camps, day schools, and synagogues — are facing dramatic challenges. We intend shortly to present a plan to help support these vital community institutions.
And with everything happening locally, we can’t forget that much of Israel is also shut down because of the pandemic. We’re working there to develop a more comprehensive plan to address needs. Meanwhile, as just one example of what we’re making possible, our overseas partner the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) is working with Israel’s government to facilitate food delivery to 60,000 homebound elderly people. This week, we also advanced $4.2 million to nearly 60 overseas grantees so operations can continue to run as smoothly as possible.
Volunteering: Volunteer opportunities at agencies within our network and beyond can be found here. Projects include food packaging and distribution, (remotely) cheering up isolated seniors, blood donation, and more. Both volunteers and agencies will need to take every health precaution necessary and abide by relevant government directives to help others through this trying time.
Jewish Connections: If we can’t gather in person, we’ll see each other virtually. Join UJA’s scholar-in-residence, Rabbi Menachem Creditor, each weekday morning at 9:00 am on Facebook Live as he offers our community words of comfort. You can find a list of virtual synagogue services here.
We will report more in the days ahead. I also want to point you to a list of resources for both families and individuals, as well as for professionals who work at nonprofits, synagogues, and day schools. We urge you to check this page often, as updates are made daily.
These are extraordinary times to be sure, but ours is an extraordinary community. And at the other end of this, when we’re once again able to fill our tables with family and friends to welcome Shabbat, we’ll be ever more grateful for the simple pleasure of being in each other’s company.