By Beth Sirull
It has been more than six months since the original shelter-in-place order. Back in March, many of us thought we would be working at home for a few weeks or months and then things would return to normal.
But here we are still largely at home, with no real end in sight. Indeed, with federal assistance fading and the winter flu season approaching, it is quite possible that for many in our community, the situation will get worse before it gets better.
Thus far, the San Diego Jewish community has successfully supported many organizations and individuals to navigate the effects of the pandemic. The San Diego Jewish Community COVID-19 Emergency Fund, a partnership between the Jewish Community Foundation, the Jewish Federation of San Diego County and the Leichtag Foundation, has raised approximately $2.3 million from nearly 400 members of our community, in gifts ranging from $18 to $1 million.
Over the past several months, nearly $2 million have been dispersed in 73 grants and loans to over 40 organizations in San Diego County. These funds have touched over 18,000 members of the Jewish community who need assistance as a result of COVID-19. And these efforts, along with coaching and consulting, have enabled Jewish organizations to leverage over $14 million in government assistance.
As these funds were put to work in our community, we spoke with many frontline workers as well as ultimate beneficiaries, people in need of assistance. Here is some of what we have learned:
- With rising unemployment and increasing business closures, basic needs—shelter, food, health care—have multiplied exponentially. In just the past few weeks, as government benefits—enhanced unemployment payments and the impact of Payroll Protection Program forgivable loans—have either run out or declined, requests for assistance with rent and food have increased.
- Families with young children face immense pressure for childcare support as a result of school disruptions. In many cases, families had not budgeted for these expenses and their incomes cannot cover them.
- Child and domestic abuse are increasing but often going unreported.
- Depression and substance abuse are increasing disproportionately.
- Organizations working to meet these needs are having to pivot on what services they deliver and how. The costs of ongoing sanitization and testing are prohibitive for organizations whose budgets were already tight.
With these learnings, the San Diego Jewish Community COVID-19 Emergency Fund has made grants and loans to Jewish organizations across the county, from small synagogues to large community centers and schools. These grants have focused on four areas:
- Helping community members in crisis, including food, housing, extended medical benefits, domestic violence prevention and intervention, and other basic needs.
- Supporting members of the community to adapt and confront to a new reality, including mental health counseling, job search support, employment retraining and financial assistance for preschool, camp and school.
- Building safe work and community spaces, including cleaning and sanitization supplies, personal protective equipment, COVID-19 testing, desk shields and partitions and safety training.
- Enabling virtual and outdoor programming, through grants to purchase streaming technology, workspace technology and tents and other shade structures.
Among the 73 grants and loans, the emergency fund granted monies to the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center to support scholarships for All Day at the J, a new program providing a safe space for children to learn virtually, while maintaining the normalcy of being in a space with friends. Credentialed educators follow the curriculum provided by a student’s school. Socially distant activities occur when children are not in classes. COVID-19 safety protocols are followed throughout the day.
While the JCC is caring for the youngest members of our community, Seacrest Village is using a grant from the Fund to support ongoing safety and testing measures to keep the elderly safe, comfortable and mentally and physically healthy. And, with its grant, Jewish Family Service is working to provide care for adults and families struggling with unemployment, mental health challenges, housing and food needs. Thirty-seven other organizations are making similar use of grants provided from the fund.
While some of these expenditures are clearly one-time costs enabling organizations to purchase new equipment and technology, most are ongoing expenses that are unlikely to recede until after a vaccine is successfully developed and widely implemented and the economy rebounds. And, while we have already seen significant need on the part of individuals and families who have lost their livelihoods, with the decline in government aid, the number of individuals and families in need will only increase.
While no one can read the tea leaves and know exactly what the community will require in the coming months, we believe that we need to raise an additional $1.2 million to support our community in the next six months. In emergencies like COVID-19, every member of the community who can help must give—and encourage their friends to do the same. If you can provide a tax deductible donation, please visit www.jcfsandiego.org/covid19 or call 858-279-2740.
Beth Sirull is President and CEO of the Jewish Community Foundation of San Diego.
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