Agencies go into overdrive to help needy during crisis

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As the stock market sinks and unemployment climbs, a ballooning number of desperate calls to Jewish Family and Children’s Services has spurred the activation of an emergency assistance plan usually used in the wake of earthquakes and other catastrophic situations.

In response to a recent 25 percent increase in the number of clients — with hundreds more than usual seeking assistance for food, shelter, medicine and other life-sustaining essentials — the S.F.-based JFCS has reactivated its Jewish Emergency Assistance Network (JEAN) to help those in need.

A similar situation is happening at San Francisco’s Hebrew Free Loan Association, a provider of interest-free loans to Jewish individuals in the Bay Area. Requests for loans have jumped more than 30 percent since July 1, according to Cindy Rogoway, Hebrew Free Loan’s director of development.

She attributes the “dramatic increase” to people who have lost their jobs, gone into debt or thought they had money to take care of a need, such as sending a child to college, only to see the funds vanish.

JFCS Executive Director Anita Friedman said it’s important right now that Jewish agencies are able to respond to people’s woes.

“Now is the time that it’s especially important that the trust people place in the Jewish community is fulfilled,” she said. “We say we’re here for people — and now they really need us. It’s a time when we all have to come together.”

JEAN’s function is to connect JFCS with Bay Area synagogues and agencies, thereby ensuring those organizations can properly refer congregants and clients who seek assistance.

In addition, because of the urgent need, JFCS is providing emergency grants to help families that might be experiencing layoffs or foreclosures, at-risk children and teenagers whose parents are struggling financially, and older adults and Holocaust survivors who need home care and their bills managed.

An emergency response team also has been established in each of the five counties JFCS serves (San Francisco, Marin, Sonoma, San Mateo and Santa Clara) to assist with financial and credit counseling, and help families prepare a “financial emergency assistance plan” for the future. The goal is to “give people a breather, allow them to stay in their homes and establish self-sufficiency,” Friedman said.

JFCS is working with S.F.-based Jewish Vocational Service and other career-oriented programs to help clients secure work, but Friedman said they’re running into a big problem: not enough jobs. To help, JFCS is working with families to review their financial situations.

Meanwhile, Jewish Family and Children’s Services of the East Bay is continuing to offer emergency financial assistance and case management through Project Ezra, a program that helps hundreds of Alameda and Contra Costa county residents manage short-term or chronic crises.

In the past few months, the number of people in need of services has increased by 25 percent, according to JFCS East Bay Executive Director Avi Rose.

“The hope is to mobilize substantial community resources to help people who are most direly affected by this crisis,” Rose said.

In the past, the S.F.-based JFCS has

activated JEAN in response to an economic or health crisis, or natural disaster. The devastating effects from the current financial situation, specifically on Bay Area residents, signaled a need to revive the network.

“It became clear that this is not a short-term problem,” said Friedman, who acknowledged that JFCS is also taking a financial hit due to sagging donations and the loss of $1 million in state funding. “The number of people coming in for help is increasing due to economic hardship spreading and deepening. We found that JEAN really helps make sure people get the help they need.”

At Hebrew Free Loan, the number of people applying for and receiving personal loans has gone up significantly. The demand for debt consolidation, student loans and unemployment loans is also on the rise.

Those seeking loans must complete a process that includes meeting in person with a Hebrew Free Loan staff member and obtaining cosigners or a security agreement. Once a loan is approved, a repayment schedule, usually ranging from two to five years, is established.

Rogoway said she is counseling people on the verge of being evicted from their homes — mostly tenants unable to pay their rent. Others have needed a car to get to work, or have had surgery not covered by insurance.

“When people come in, they’re either in need of a little support or they’re panicked,” Rogoway said. “The number of people living on the edge has really increased. Some of them are somewhat desperate.”

Rogoway noted that her agency is taking more chances these days and giving loans to people who typically would not meet the normal criteria. She added that while Hebrew Free Loan has sufficient funds to carry out its business and provide support, more funding would translate to larger loans.

“We’ve been around for 111 years helping people through financially difficult times like the Depression,” Rogoway said. “We’re trying to be here for people during this uncertain time.”

To donate to Jewish Family and Children’s Services or for information about JEAN or Project Ezra: www.jfcs.org www.jfcs-eastbay.org. Donations or

information about Hebrew Free Loan Association: www.hflasf.org.