After years of operation, a group of helping hands has become a bit more official. Bikur Cholim of Pittsburgh, a volunteer-based group led by Nina Butler, is now an independent nonprofit 501(c)(3). The decision to file paperwork and pay applicable fees to attain such status was driven by the organization’s welcome predicament of what to do when given money.
“We found ourselves, without soliciting, being the recipients of some generous gifts, and so although Jewish organizations were very generous in offering to hold them for us and help us with it, we wanted to do everything above board and 100 percent kosher, so becoming an independent 501(c)(3) took time, and frankly it took money, but we believe it was the right thing to do,” said Butler.
“We want everything we do to be of the highest ethical practice, and in order for us to have standards worthy of our wonderful volunteers, we want our business side of it to be unquestionable,” she continued.
Bikur Cholim of Pittsburgh, whose mission is to provide for “Orthodox Jewish observance by patients and their families who are receiving medical treatment in the Pittsburgh area,” has been in some sort of existence for decades, explained its head.
“Bikur Cholim has been a Butler project since Aunt Chantze was pretty early in her marriage.” (Chantze Butler was married in June of 1946.)
While elements of the work have changed over time, the commitment of those involved has remained the same.
“Volunteers are the forefront,” said Linda Tashbook, a local attorney who assisted the group with filings and requirements.
Though seemingly inconceivable years ago, much of the volunteers’ communication and work is coordinated through a digital platform, said Sue Fuhrman, an associate of Nina Butler’s and a Bikur Cholim of Pittsburgh board member.
The group relies upon lotsahelpinghands.com, a website that allows registered members to schedule and provide the patient or its family members with not only meals, but also a host of other needed services or items, including clothing, rides or visits.
Fuhrman, who has been active with Bikur Cholim of Pittsburgh for “about seven years,” said that “it’s a win both ways.”
In trying to provide what is best in each situation, there are often a multitude of needs and of those willing to help.
“Sometimes we have 30 to 40 [volunteers],” Fuhrman said. “Sometimes we are literally coordinating hundreds of volunteers from multiple cities and countries.”
Becoming a 501(c)(3) is another way of aiding that network.
“A lot of people over the years wanted to give thanks and money for services given to them or their families,” said Tashbook. “Now, there is a way to receive those funds.”
That opportunity joins another recent development within the organization, which Butler was proud to share.
“We are pleased to inform the Pittsburgh Jewish community that UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital now has a Shabbat Cabinet, which will offer the comfort of familiar rituals to Jewish patients and their families during difficult times in their lives and make UPMC Magee even more welcoming to them,” wrote Butler to supporters.
“Note that these cabinets are not in place of what we do through Bikur Cholim by providing meals and other assistance. They are really for the emergency situation. We are blessed that our hospitals have kosher food that can be ordered. These cabinets are known to security staff so if you ever find yourself in that situation, ask for the cabinets’ location at the information desk.”
Within the past eight years, Shabbat Cabinets, which include items such as grape juice, electric candles, siddurim and snacks, have been installed at UPMC Presbyterian, Montefiore and Shadyside hospitals, said Butler.
And although Shabbat, the Jewish holidays and kashrut are often on the mindset of volunteers at Bikur Cholim Pittsburgh, the group’s focus is not only on the Orthodox, explained its leader.
“The focus really isn’t denominational per se, it isn’t that they have to be Orthodox; the focus is really on people who need some help on keeping up some standard of kashrut and some standard of Shabbat, but that’s totally according to their preferences.
“I’ve cared for families where I’ve had to learn a lot more about their cultural preferences because they’re far to the right of my personal practice; and we’ve also cared for families to the left,” said Butler. “It’s really about the patient and the family, the fact that they’re going through a very stressful time, and we hope that we can alleviate that in some small way.”
In that sense, the work is no different now than it was decades ago.
Bikur Cholim of Pittsburgh “is still going to rely on the work of volunteers,” said Tashbook, who added that no salaries are being taken by anyone in the group.
What has changed is that “this organization has a clear identity.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at areinherz