Steuart Street entrance to the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation. (Photo/From file)
Steuart Street entrance to the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation. (Photo/From file)

‘This is the rainy day’: S.F.-based Federation expedites emergency funding

In the first weeks of the coronavirus crisis, Hebrew Free Loan received more than 100 new applications for emergency aid, totaling more than $1 million in requests. Just one problem: The S.F.-based Jewish agency had only $720,000 available.

So the Jewish Community Federation, with its endowment committee and donor-advised funds, stepped up and raised at least $1.3 million. The funds will be transferred to Hebrew Free Loan on April 3.

“Our goal has always been to move more philanthropic capital into the community,” said Tanya Shadoan, the Federation’s director of philanthropic donations and impact investment. “What’s changed is the urgency, the need to find solutions that can be responsive more quickly.”

The goal of raising millions for Hebrew Free Loan is part of the S.F.-based Federation’s broader coronavirus battle plan. Said CEO Danny Grossman, “The safety and resilience of our extraordinary Bay Area community continues to be one of our top priorities, and we look forward to coming together with our network of donors, partners and lay leaders to address the short- and long-term impact of this pandemic.”

It will take millions of dollars and all the collective will, wealth and wisdom the community can muster.

“The circumstance is radically different from three weeks ago, when we thought we were sheltering in place for a couple of weeks,” said Roxanne Cohen, the Federation’s director of community impact. “It became obvious we were looking at something persisting for many months. That caused a pivot in how every organization needs to think about this crisis.”

In March, the Federation conducted a survey of Jewish community institutions. From the 85 that responded, a grim picture emerged. If the shutdown were to persist through June, those institutions could lose as much as $43 million. That translates to 80 to 90 percent of the normal revenue of JCCs, Jewish day schools and Jewish camps — scary stats for the more than 5,000 people those institutions employ.

In response, the Federation formed a coronavirus task force, chaired by San Francisco philanthropist John Goldman. Its mission is to set grantmaking priorities and raise millions of dollars in emergency funds.

The task force set two priorities, first and foremost helping vulnerable populations — including seniors, the economically disadvantaged, the unemployed, and those with mental or physical disabilities. Funds will go to food aid, job resources, counseling, domestic violence support, acute care for seniors and child care. In a show of solidarity with the broader community, as much as 20 percent of funds raised will go to nonsectarian Bay Area social service agencies.

The second category is to help stabilize what the task force labeled “the Jewish community ecosystem,” by providing aid to strapped JCCs, preschools, Jewish day schools, camps, Jewish engagement and cultural organizations.

“Our plan is to disburse a first tranche of grants by next week,” Cohen said. “Those will be in the first category. Then it will likely be in the first week of May we expect the next grants.”

Where is the money coming from? For starters, Federation Endowment Committee chair Laura Lauder pitched in with a $500,000 matching fund for the Hebrew Free Loan grant. Philanthropists with donor-advised funds also jumped in feet first.

“People understand deeply that this is the rainy day,” Cohen said.

Shadoan says the Hebrew Free Loan emergency fundraising drive has been an easy sell to donors. Not only is the need for such assistance obvious, but the fact that these donations will fund loans to be repaid and recycled again and again — what she calls “recoverable grants” — is appealing.

“The Jewish Community Federation has truly stepped up with this partnership,” said HFL executive director Cindy Rogoway. “They are mobilizing their donors on a moment’s notice and raising urgently needed funds. The Federation has built a community infrastructure that was ready and waiting to convene and collaborate for the good of the whole.”

While the Jewish community mobilization is heartening, Cohen understands the future remains uncertain and potentially devastating. “It is entirely possible that some Jewish organizations may not make it to the other side of this,” she said. “I think it’s too early to call it, but it is a reality.”

Nevertheless, she and her Federation colleagues have their game faces on.

“This time is different from any for most of us in our lifetimes,” she noted. “Certainly I hope people will step up, trust the Federation and partner with us.”

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.