Readers Choice 2014: Community

Charitable Organization/Jewish

When Jews settled in the Bay Area during the Gold Rush, they established benevolent societies, welcoming new immigrants, providing help for the elderly and infirm, and encouraging those who were are able to donate and to volunteer. Those societies have evolved into organizations that span the Bay Area, enabling Jews to fulfill the commandment to care for those in need.

The San Francisco–based Jewish Family and Children’s Services — which was also the North Bay choice and serves the Peninsula as well — calls itself “a lifeline, from cradle to rocking chair, for children, families and older adults facing transitions and personal crises.” Services run the gamut from adoption to senior and end-of-life counseling, as well as assistance to émigrés, Holocaust survivors, people with disabilities and families in crisis.

Founded more than 100 years ago, the San Francisco–based Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund is an umbrella organization that partners with dozens of agencies locally, in Israel and throughout the world to provide education, counseling, cultural activities and networking opportunities. Calling itself a “philanthropic catalyst,” it raises funds, awards grants and scholarships, and serves as a safety net for those at risk. In addition, it sponsors interest groups and forums, developing and grooming leadership among teens, young adults, women and businesspeople.

In 1897, nine San Franciscans came up with a plan to help new immigrants achieve self-sufficiency, with loans rather than charity. Today Hebrew Free Loan’s interest-free loans continue to serve immigrants, but they also help adopting couples, first-time homebuyers, families facing emergencies, college students and small-business owners. The programs “allow Jews to care for one another,” says Cindy Rogoway, executive director, “and while we pursue innovation as a means to ensure our relevance in the future, we will never lose sight of the heart and soul of our mission: helping people to become and remain self sufficient.” What’s more, about 99 percent of these loans have been repaid, and some borrowers have become donors themselves.

Serving Alameda and Contra Costa counties, Jewish Family & Children’s Services of the East Bay was founded in 1877 as the Daughters of Israel Relief Society, assisting the Jewish aged, orphaned and widowed. Over the years, it has continued its involvement in resettlement efforts, legal and social services, with a bicultural, bilingual staff speaking Russian, Farsi, Spanish and Bosnian. The agency offers mental health services to people of all religious affiliations, ethnicities and national backgrounds. Its Café Europa serves as a gathering place for Holocaust survivors and their families. It also offers support groups for single parents of teens, the bereaved, long-distance caregivers and family members of people with mental illness. “JFCS/East Bay is proud to be an agency rooted in the Jewish community, with some programs directed specifically toward East Bay Jews, and other services that extend to the rich, multicultural broader community we live in,” says Holly Taines White, director of grants and communications.

Jewish Family Services of Silicon Valley, founded in 1978, serves 3,000 clients, offering social, vocational, senior, counseling, volunteer and resettlement services in a diverse community. Project NOAH (No One Abandoned Here), part of social services, is a safety-net program serving primarily lower-income people and families either in crisis or facing ongoing challenges. More than 350 volunteers deliver Shabbat meals, file taxes, teach English, proof resumes, help émigrés apply for citizenship, visit the elderly, knit blankets and sort food, among other activities. “Although we’re smaller than some other social service organizations, we’re growing. This coming year we’ll be adding home-care services for seniors, increased counseling services, parenting classes and new volunteer opportunities for young adults,” says Mindy Berkowitz, executive director. “Every day we restore hope for families, seniors and adults because we believe in tikkun olam, repairing our corner of the world.”

 San Francisco & North Bay

Jewish Family and Children’s Services

(415) 449-1200


San Francisco

Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund

(415) 777-0411

Hebrew Free Loan Association

(415) 546-9902


East Bay

Jewish Family & Children’s Services of the East Bay

Berkeley  • (510) 704-7475

Walnut Creek • (925) 927-2000


South Bay/Peninsula

Jewish Family Services of Silicon Valley

Los Gatos

(408) 556-0600


Charitable Organization/Secular

Throughout the Bay Area, food banks offer vital help in the most basic area: combating hunger and bolstering nutrition. High unemployment, the recession and the rising cost of living have taken a severe toll, and many residents are forced to make a choice between food and medicine. In recent years, food banks have increased their distribution of fresh produce, which now accounts for more than half of the food they deliver. Meanwhile, as the Jewish community ages, hospices have expanded their services. The following charitable groups win kudos for serving our community well — and they all need volunteers and donors.

The SF-Marin Food Bank, a reader favorite for both San Francisco and the North Bay, delivers 46 million pounds of food to more than 225,000 people each year through neighborhood food pantries, schools and other nonprofits that run hot-meal programs. Donors and volunteers are a critical part of the equation. Additional food is rescued from supermarkets, donated by manufacturers and distributors and collected by volunteer food drives. With the high cost of living in these counties, the food bank’s distribution has increased by 40 percent since the beginning of the recession.

Believing that “healthy food should not be a luxury,” the Alameda County Community Food Bank was the first food bank in the country to ban the distribution of soda, according to Barbara Darrow-Blake, chief development officer. In business since 1985, the organization provides food to 49,000 residents each week. Working with 240 local agencies, it also distributes food to pantries, soup kitchens and other facilities. Over the last decade, it has increased distribution of fresh produce by 1,000 percent, running an emergency food helpline and offering multilingual outreach and nutrition education. The food bank “is both inspired by and grateful for our strong partnership with the Bay Area’s Jewish community,” says Darrow-Blake. “Community-led initiatives like the High Holy Days Food Drive and Holiday Dinner Fund Drive are critical to our hunger-relief efforts,” along with year-round support from “countless congregations.”

Second Harvest Food Bank of San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties, founded in 1974, provides food to more than a quarter of a million people each month. It has a four-star rating from Charity Navigator for financial stability, accountability and transparency. During fiscal 2013, it distributed 52 million pounds of nutritious food to low-income people, networking with 330 nonprofits at 770 distribution sites, including pantries, shelters and soup kitchens; senior facilities; schools and children’s programs. Its Produce Mobile delivers produce to those with limited access to markets. On a weekly basis, its Brown Bag program provides nutritious food to 40,000 seniors, while Kids NOW (Nutrition on Weekends) delivers easy-to-prepare food for kids to take home from school. “Nobody should ever go hungry, particularly in this wealthy area,” says Kathy Jackson, CEO. “The number of people who rely on Second Harvest for food each month is staggering … so we are grateful for the support we get from the community.”

Founded nearly 40 years ago as Hospice of Marin, Hospice by the Bay has expanded to provide end-of-life care throughout the North Bay, San Francisco and northern San Mateo counties. Health professionals collaborate with families, caregivers and hospital discharge planners so people can spend their final days in the place where they are most comfortable. In addition to in-home care, Hospice of the Bay offers health-care planning workshops, estate-planning seminars and grief counseling.

San Francisco & North Bay 

SF-Marin Food Bank

San Francisco • (415) 282-1900

Novato • (415) 883-1302


East Bay

Alameda County Community Food Bank


(510) 635-3663


South Bay/Peninsula

Second Harvest Food Bank of San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties

Various locations

(408) 266-8866


North Bay

Hospice by the Bay

Various locations

(415) 927-2273



The Bay Area is home to Jewish community centers throughout the region, most with aquatics and fitness centers, and all with programs for kids, seniors and everybody in between.

Founded in 1877, the JCC of San Francisco is the longest-serving Jewish community center on the West Coast. With a 42,000-square-foot fitness and aquatics center, lectures that feature luminaries in politics, the arts and business, art classes and exhibits, and a school of music and dance, the JCCSF is packed with activities. An estimated 4,500 people come through the doors each day. Émigré programs, preschools, programs for older adults and interfaith family activities fill the menu, along with book talks, concerts, and camps and afterschool activities for kids.

With campuses in Oakland and Berkeley, the JCC of the East Bay serves northern Alameda and western Contra Costa counties. It sponsors the Jewish Music Festival, hosts book talks and lectures, and provides year-round programming for youth and seniors. Exercise programs include Feldenkrais awareness, Asian-inspired energy balancing and BodyPump for all fitness levels. The JCC also offers Kabbalat Shabbat gatherings, holiday celebrations and a variety of classes.

Calling itself “a multigenerational Jewish neighborhood,” the 5-year-old Oshman Family JCC serves the South Peninsula with educational, social, cultural, fitness, sports and swimming programs. “As a JCC in the heart of entrepreneurial Silicon Valley, we are an incubator for new expressions of Jewish identity,” says Zack Bodner, CEO. The schedule is filled with performances and lectures, Mommy & Me programs, Community Tuesdays for active seniors, and activities for the large Israeli and Russian-speaking communities. Music and arts workshops and a Friday farmers market round out  the offerings. The JCC also collaborates on programs with area synagogues and community groups.

The Peninsula JCC, on a 12-acre Foster City campus, features a 50,000-square-foot athletic and aquatics facility, Jewish family life and interfaith programs, a gallery showcasing local artists and live entertainment, including outdoor summer concerts. Through the Initiative on Jewish Peoplehood, co-funded by the Koret and Taube foundations, the PJCC provides travel and education programs that build connections to Israel, as well as classes and experiences that promote Jewish literacy and Jewish practice.

 With a swimming and fitness complex, a center for performing arts, outdoor summer concerts, festivals and celebrations, the Osher Marin JCC draws the wider community while offering activities to sustain Jewish life and culture. Partnering with InterfaithFamily, the JCC offers classes in raising children with Judaism as well as preparing children in interfaith families for b’nai mitzvah. Performances in the Kanbar Center range from classical to world music, dance to comedy, lectures and film to culinary demonstrations. The free 2013-14 “Salaam, Shalom: Speaking of Peace” series, co-sponsored by synagogues and other community groups, aims to further interfaith and cross-cultural understanding through films, art, tastings and talks.

San Francisco

JCC of San Francisco

(415) 292-1200


East Bay

JCC of the East Bay

Berkeley • (510) 848-0237

Oakland • (510) 595-9222


South Bay/Peninsula

Oshman Family JCC

Palo Alto

(650) 223-8700

Peninsula JCC

Foster City

(650) 212-7522


North Bay

Osher Marin JCC

San Rafael

(415) 444-8000


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