With more than 1 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States to date, many of the hardest-hit states include those with large Jewish populations — Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Illinois, California. As a result, Jewish nonprofit organizations in the heath care arena, including nursing homes and assisted living centers, hospice facilities and those who provide homecare for Holocaust survivors and other vulnerable populations, have witnessed overwhelming fatality rates as a result of the pandemic.
But a group of “next generation” young communal Jewish leaders and heads of nonprofit Jewish organizations have mobilized, along with the mainstream Jewish community, to launch a worldwide emergency campaign — called “Pledge to Protect” — to purchase and deliver lifesaving personal protective equipment (PPE) to the frontline workers.
Alex Jakubowski, executive director at KAHAL, an organization that connects Jewish students studying abroad with experiences in their host communities, told JNS that “KAHAL saw the writing on the wall” in February.
“Since we have students in China and around the world, we decided to change our whole organization and become a COVID-19 support organization,” he said.
Jakubowski said he was hearing pleas for help over and over again from the same segments of the health care community.
“There is a global shortage of PPE in nursing homes and hospice care. These frontline workers, especially those outside of a hospital setting, are not given equipment by state governments. They are not the first priority. We also learned that this equipment needs to be imported at outrageous prices.”
Utilizing KAHAL’s global network and partnering with other Jewish organizations, a well-oiled procurement, shipment and distribution chain for PPE was set up to assist caregivers at more than 200 Jewish institutions throughout the country.
As of April 28, nearly 2 million pieces of PPE — surgical masks, gloves, gowns and other equipment — have been delivered to local agencies and communities with the goal of reducing transmission of the novel coronavirus. All of this came even before the “hard launch” of the campaign, as much more is needed.
‘Without that gear, it could have cost lives’
Jay Feldman, managing director at the Alpha Epsilon Pi Fraternity Foundation (AEPi), told JNS how Jakubowski reached out and got his organization onboard.
“We have a wide network, including 90,000 alumni,” Feldman said. “I was able to put KAHAL in touch with some of our people to start setting up a data network, and to manage and plot the distribution operation.”
At the same time, he added, “we realized, we needed someone for that last mile — the actual delivery. So we tapped into our student network and alumni, and they stepped up as volunteers to actually pick up and deliver the equipment to the institutions.”
AEPi CEO James Fleischer noted that “the mission of Alpha Epsilon Pi International Fraternity — to develop the future leaders of the world’s Jewish communities — is in clear evidence in this program. We are proud that our undergraduate and alumni brothers are playing a vital role in this amazing project. … The fact that so many of these undergraduates recognize the needs of their global community and the importance of tikkun olam at a time like this means that we are doing our job for the future of Jewish communities.”
Jakubowski said the PPE has been ordered from places all over the world, including China, Hong Kong, Mexico and other countries. One of the obstacles, he said, is fierce competition, as well as delays in shipping and receiving.
“When shipments are delayed, we must create opportunities to get these agencies what they need,” he said.
Jakubowski is quick to praise AEPi for stepping up to the plate. In one instance, he said that thousands of disposable gowns worn to treat those in isolation needed to be dropped off.
“Alum Jordan Elcott created the initiative with AEPi chapters, and got the gowns and more items delivered. Without that gear, it could have cost lives.”
Jordan’s father, Shalom Elcott, works as the philanthropic curator at Samueli Foundation, a family foundation focused on health, education, the Jewish community and Israel. He has been part of the managing team on the campaign, working with Jakubowski, Feldman and representatives from other organizations.
As someone who has many years of experience in the nonprofit sector, he has much praise for such quick mobilization during an intense time of crisis.
He said Jakubowski was able to get mainstream and well-established umbrella organizations, such as the Jewish Federations of North America and the Jewish Funders Network, to be active partners in the campaign. “In just five weeks, he brought longtime established organizations together in a powerful partnership with Jewish leaders from around the world.”
Jakubowski said that $408,000 has been raised so far for the campaign during the “soft launch” stage; the official crowdfunding aspect of the campaign began on April 29, Israel’s Independence Day. The campaign goal is currently $3 million.
Of the total amount raised so far, more than $100,000 was donated by people living in Israel. “The Jewish Funders Network in Israel has been extremely generous even as demands in Israel are herculean,” Elcott said.
Perhaps most important are the results of the campaign on the ground, as reported by the agencies that are being assisted during these difficult and frightening times.
According to a representative of the Kline Galland retirement home in Seattle, “we just tested all our residents this weekend and came back with ZERO positive cases. We all know this is 100% because we have the PPE to treat our patients safely and responsibly. You all are saving lives.” pjc