By Gil Preuss
How do we keep our Jewish community strong and connected despite changes imposed by the coronavirus?
The organization I lead, The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, is focused on anticipating and addressing short-, medium-, and long-term needs in the wake of COVID-19. This includes considering how we can support individuals, organizations and our community at a time of rapid change.
At the core of our current work is addressing the needs of the most vulnerable in our community while ensuring that we also sustain the communal organizations that care for so many people and enrich Jewish life. In these past two weeks, we have focused on helping essential organizations.
In one case, Jewish Foundation for Group Homes (JFGH) is incurring significant incremental expenses to ensure the safety of the people living in the homes. As reported last month by Washington Jewish Week, rather than have staff come in and out of the homes several times a day, JFGH is having staff live in the homes for two weeks at a time. This has increased costs, but also significantly increased everyone’s safety.
In response, Federation’s Executive Committee has approved a loan of $150,000 to Jewish Foundation for Group Homes to help support their crucial efforts. The allocation was recommended by our Emergency Response Committee, and made possible thanks to generous donations to Federation’s coronavirus response fund, which has raised more than $4 million.
In other cases, many organizations, such as JCCs, are facing challenges to their core business model due to the closures of their buildings. All three of Greater Washington’s JCCs have lost significant revenue since their respective buildings closed in the middle of March, as Washington Jewish Week detailed in its April 23 issue.
Federation has issued $650,000 in loans to our local JCCs to help them remain operational and take care of their employees to the best of their ability. We have also worked with the JCCs and with Jewish organizations across the community to help them navigate the application process for the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program.
So far, SBA loans are set to bring in approximately $20 million to help people at a time when they need it most. This sustains employment in the organizations and enables them to continue serving individuals throughout our community.
Yet even with emergency funding, communal organizations are having to make tough choices. They are having to navigate protecting the health and safety of their constituents and staff while also doing what they can to ensure the long-term viability of their agency.
Competing and urgent priorities have led some organizations to make the hard choice of laying off staff or curtailing their services. Our goal is to offer guidance and essential resources to help mitigate the situation and, most importantly, to ensure organizations can get through this crisis and prepare for continued success in the future.
Of course, our work is only possible thanks to the care and generosity of our community members. We continue to receive donations to our coronavirus fund every day from both new and established donors, and have benefited greatly from the leadership of our Emergency Response Committee and Executive Committee.
Though it is clear the effects of the COVID-19 crisis will endure for some time, it is also clear that our community is committed to getting through this together.
Gil Preuss is CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington.