Local causes receive unexpected Chanukah windfall

"Pennies from heaven" rained down on seven local organizations recently.

Actually, it wasn't mere pennies, it was more like $90,000. And it didn't exactly hail from the skies either; it came from the coffers of the Alexander M. and June L. Maisin Foundation.

But Mark Reisbaum, director of grants for the Jewish Community Endowment Fund, described it that way, because the recipients of the unexpected windfall did not have to go through the usual arduous application process that is typical for nonprofits seeking funding. Rather, they were awarded the money as a holiday gift on the basis of their reputations alone.

"The usual grant process can be so burdensome on the organizations," said Reisbaum. Additionally, he said, while grant money must often be used for a specific purpose, in this case, "this is for whatever the greatest need is."

This is the fifth year that the Maisin Foundation has awarded these surprise grants. And this year's $90,000 is in addition to $1.1 million appropriated by the foundation to organizations during the year 2000.

Alexander Maisin immigrated to San Francisco from Russia, via Shanghai. He became a longshoreman, and "was very astute," said Henry Berman, vice president of the foundation and a friend of the Maisins, who are now deceased.

"Out of his meager savings, he bought property here and there," Berman said, "and built up a substantial real estate empire."

Maisin, he added, "was a wonderful little man. He worked hard all his life, and we're trying to put his money to the best possible use, as he would have liked."

Beginning in 1996, the board of the foundation decided to "do something to recognize organizations that do good work, so they don't have to apply for grants," said Reisbaum.

"We don't wait for people to ask us," said Berman. "We have ideas and put them into motion."

In the past, the recipients were all local, but in light of the situation in the Middle East, this year, two organizations devoted to Jewish-Arab coexistence and reconciliation were included in addition. They are Seeds of Peace, the summer camp for Arab and Jewish teens, and the Center for Jewish Arab Education in Israel, which runs three bilingual schools.

The local organizations include:

*St. Anne's Home – Little Sisters of the Poor, which provides residential and day care to low-income elderly in San Francisco's Richmond District.

*The San Francisco Chronicle Season of Sharing Fund, which provides housing and meals to low-income families.

*San Francisco's Jewish Home.

*Mo's Kitchen at Glide Memorial Church, which serves three free meals a day throughout the year in San Francisco's Tenderloin District.

*Hatikvah, which provides housing as well as support for South Bay Jewish adults with developmental disabilities.

*Children's Book Project, which provides books for low-income children in San Francisco.

*Sukkot in April, a project of Christmas in April, in which Jewish volunteers spend a day devoted to community service in San Francisco and on the Peninsula.

The grant recipients "have to be people in need or organizations in need, with good character and background, and good members of the community as well as ecumenical," said Berman.

The Maisin Foundation is a supporting foundation of the JCEF; while the Maisin Foundation has its own board of directors, the JCEF also has a representative on the board.

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."