The Jewish Assistance Fund, Hebrew Free Loan Association, SOS Pittsburgh of Jewish Family and Community Services, Squirrel Hill Food Pantry, Jewish Scholarship Services (formerly Central Scholarship) and the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh Israel Scholarships/Passport to Israel are embarking on a new partnership called JFunds to streamline the process for clients seeking assistance.
The Sept. 4 signing of a memorandum of understanding by representatives of the organizations at Congregation Beth Shalom was followed two days later by a breakfast launch party, where Jewish community professionals could learn about the new initiative, said Aviva Lubowsky, director of marketing and development at the Hebrew Free Loan Association.
Officials were quick to point out that JFunds is not a new organization, but is rather a “brand to help familiarize the Jewish community with the financial supports available to them.”
“The Pittsburgh community has a long tradition of providing individuals and families with financial resources, and we are a community with organizations that see the value in working collaboratively,” explained Cindy Goodman-Leib, executive director of the Jewish Assistance Fund. “JFunds brings together these positive qualities within a Jewish context and provides a seamless referral system among our partners.”
The beauty of JFunds is it provides a “one stop shop in the community for people who are looking for some type of financial assistance,” said Debbie Swartz, Federation’s Israel and overseas planning associate. Whether someone needs to pay her electric bill, get funding for travel to Israel or replace the roof on a house, JFunds is poised to facilitate that process.
Visitors to JFundspgh.org can see a list of participating organziations, what services are available and who is eligible for aid. Those uncertain about which agency is best suited to handle the request will be assisted by the JFunds partners, said Goodman-Leib.
“There are so many resources available from Jewish agencies to help, but previously I think most community members thought they were only for people in dire need,” said Adam Hertzman, Federation’s director of marketing. “JFunds will help people in Jewish households — especially working class and middle class families — understand that everyone can use financial assistance sometimes. Really any time people have a major life change or event, they should be thinking about JFunds to find out financial resources that could help.”
JFunds began with a series of conversations dating back to last year, said Swartz.
Its launch came at the perfect time, added Goodman-Leib. “JFunds is especially timely, given the financial snapshot of the Jewish community, which confirmed the need for supportive financial services from all of our partner organizations.”
The 2017 Greater Pittsburgh Community Study reported that “it is clear that there are some unmet needs in the community. Aside from the expenses associated with affiliating with Jewish organizations, providing Jewish education for children, purchasing kosher food and other means of engaging in Jewish life, less affluent families are also more likely to be struggling with basic necessities such as adequate housing and good health. There are underserved households throughout the community, but particularly among the Orthodox, families with children and young adults.”
According to the study, 33 percent of the Jewish community describes itself as “prosperous” or “living comfortably,” while 45 percent say they are “living reasonably comfortably.” Still, nearly one quarter (23 percent) say they are “just getting along,” “nearly poor” or “poor.”
Additionally, a quarter of Jewish households reported they did not have savings amounting to three months of income, which financial planners suggest is a necessity when facing an unexpected hardship. Thirteen percent of Jewish households would be unable to pay a $400 emergency expense.
Almost half of Jewish households (47 percent) earn no more than $75,000 per year, and 37 percent earn less than $50,000 per year.
JFunds is seeking to “get the message out for what is available for Jewish families that need help,” said Swartz.
The partnership “creates a network of critical financial services that human service professionals can more easily access to help their Jewish clients,” said Matthew Bolton, director of the food pantry.
“I’m very excited about being a part of this collaboration,” said Swartz. “The best part about this is because we are all working together if someone calls me I can refer them right away to the correct place.” PJC