Koret gives JFCS $1 million to help those in need

Jewish Family and Children’s Services’ drive to ramp up assistance for those suffering in the economic crisis just got a $1 million boost.

The Koret Foundation approved a $1 million initiative Dec. 12 in an effort to strengthen S.F.-based JFCS’ capacity to assist the growing number of Bay Area residents who have lost their jobs, missed mortgage payments or been otherwise negatively impacted by the current financial crisis.

“We scanned the landscape and wanted something within the Jewish community,” said Susan Wolfe, director of grantmaking programs and communications for the Koret Foundation in San Francisco. “We wanted to identify a population that fell within our perceived sweet spot — a group of temporary poor who were down on their luck and in need of getting back on their feet.”

The Koret grant will go to the S.F.-based JFCS, which serves San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma counties; Jewish Family Services of Silicon Valley, and Jewish Family and Children’s Services of the East Bay.

JFCS Executive Director Anita Friedman said she was gratified by the Koret Foundation’s gesture and hopes it encourages other organizations to give in a similar manner.

And in the midst of a roughly $5 million budget shortfall, Friedman said the S.F.-based agency needs all the financial support it can get.

“This is the worst crisis we’ve experienced so far,” said Friedman, comparing it to four economic recessions and Bay Area disasters such as the AIDS epidemic, earthquakes and the resettlement of thousands of refugees from the Soviet Union. “It’s coupled with a global economic recession and profound government cuts in other community services, and it’s projected to go longer.”

JFCS recently lost $1 million in state funding and is seeing donations sag, while at the same time demand for services is skyrocketing.

Meanwhile, the number of clients seeking assistance from JFCS has increased by 25 percent over last year, Friedman said. She anticipates that figure will grow due to foreseeable layoffs and the normal spike in demand during the holiday season.

Friedman added that requests for goods from the JFCS food pantry and vouchers for fresh fruits, vegetables, dairy products and meat are up 75 percent since last year.

Jewish Family and Children’s Services of the East Bay has similarly seen an increased need — its client load has jumped 25 percent over last year, according to Executive Director Avi Rose. As his agency braces for that number to go up, Rose said the Koret donation could not have come at a better time.

“It’s a really encouraging and heartening sign,” Rose said. “People understand that this is hitting home in a serious way and this is the time that the community needs to act like a community.”

JFCS offers a variety of services, from short-term grants and loans to psychological counseling and financial consultation, all with the goal of promoting self-sustainability.

“Some people are in an economic crisis for the first time and are caught off-guard,” Rose said. “There are others who have frequently been in crisis due to other issues. With these Koret funds, we’ll be in a better position to help these people connect with our resources and get them to a self-sufficient place in their lives.”

It’s a concept the Koret Foundation values, Wolfe said, and another reason why it selected JFCS as the beneficiary of the $1 million initiative. She said the agency also was chosen because of its Jewish Emergency Assistance Network, which JFCS reactivated about a month ago.

JEAN connects JFCS with Bay Area synagogues and agencies to ensure those organizations can properly refer congregants and clients who seek assistance.

“JEAN involves the broader Bay Area community and reaches out to synagogues so there’s no duplication of services,” Wolfe said. “That efficiency is very important to us.”

In the past, JFCS has initiated JEAN in response to an economic or health crisis, or a natural disaster. The current recession and its dire ramifications for thousands of Bay Area residents signaled a need to revive the network.

“JFCS has a very long track record of success,” Wolfe continued. “We respect their leadership, and it is a place where the money will be used for maximum efficiency.”