Chicago federation steps up with $93,000 in relief for local agencies and food pantries

The JUF/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago is stepping up with $93,000 in emergency funding for its local kosher food pantries and other organizations that are now hurting because of the economic downturn, as well as rent relief for individuals in the Jewish community.

My guess is that we are going to see more and more grants like this one being doled out by federations in the coming months. That’s because: 1) The need is there 2) The view among UJC leaders is that the economic downturn offers an important opportunity for federations to prove their value to the Jewish community.

And, if fedrations are going to be able to sustain their fund raising, grants like this one in Chicago will be a primary selling point to donors, with the message being that the local federation is positioned to provide a lifeline to impoverished Jews and Jewish social service agencies in this time of need.

I’ll let the press release speak for itself and explain the details of the grant:

CHICAGO – The Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago is providing $93,000 in immediate additional food, rent and utility assistance to aid the escalating number of people seeking help from its agencies.
The funding is the first under J-Help: A Boost in Tough Times, JUF’s just-launched effort to assist those hit hardest by the current financial crisis. The effort provides increased allocations to JUF-supported agencies and programs that are faced with swelling demand for their services because of the economic downturn.

The initial $93,000 will go to five agencies offering food and financial assistance programs. Other needs, such as employment and job-training services as well as Jewish education, will be addressed soon.

“These are initial amounts to get some increased services on the street quickly,” said David Rubovits, JUF’s Vice President of Planning & Allocations.

“They represent good first steps at addressing the most pressing current client needs. They also span the range of groups at risk, from the chronically disadvantaged to financially stressed individuals and families, from young families to the aged.”

The largest portion of the initial allocation will go to services providing short-term rent or utility assistance, one-time emergency payments, and other types of financial assistance. Jewish Child & Family Services will receive $60,000, and the Federation’s South Suburban Office will receive $2,000 for those efforts. JCFS Executive Director Robert Bloom said his agency has received more requests for financial assistance in the first nine months of 2008 than in all of 2007.

“Across the spectrum, we have seen people needing more help,” Bloom said. “Food and shelter are the biggest needs. With this new J-Help allocation, we are feeding people and keeping them in their homes.”

The rest of the J-Help money will go to agency food pantries and food assistance programs.

Jewish Community Center of Chicago, CJE SeniorLife and other agencies will distribute $14,000 in food vouchers to clients. CJE SeniorLife also will get $8,000 for its Home Delivered Meals program, which provides about 780 home-bound seniors with meals each day, Monday through Friday, and an additional meal before holidays. The initiative is a joint venture of the Jewish community, the Illinois Department on Aging, and Kraft Corporation.

Two other agencies, The ARK and the Dina and Eli Field EZRA Multi-Service Center, will receive $4,500 each for food packages distributed by their pantries.

The ARK, based in West Rogers Park, distributes about 500 supplemental food packages every month, said Executive Director Miriam Weinberger. Each package contains about $40 worth of non-perishable staples such as rice or pasta, canned goods and cereals and, occasionally, fresh fruit. The ARK also distributes chicken, eggs, orange juice and paper goods – items that clients often cannot afford on their own or that food stamps won’t cover, Weinberger said.

“The food pantry is one of our most accessed services, so we are very appreciative of the help from the Federation,” Weinberger said.
The EZRA food pantry in Uptown usually is stocked with donations of non-perishable food, Director Anita Weinstein said. But this year, as donors began to feel the impact of a worsening economy, donations sagged, even though food remains clients’ Number One need. Both the pantry and the JUF Uptown Cafe meal program are seeing increasing demand. The JUF Uptown Cafe consistently has reached its capacity of serving 70 people at every meal, and now has a waiting list. As food prices rise, food stamps have less purchasing power, leading to greater reliance on community food pantries and kitchens by those in need, Weinstein said.

“I applaud the Jewish community for stepping up when other providers are stepping back. The J-Help allocation will absolutely meet the need,” Weinstein said. “EZRA is not just a food pantry – we provide access to a community that’s caring. Food is just a portion of this, but in many respects, food and access to healthcare are the two most important.”

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