Overcoming budget cuts

No one knows precisely what kind of federal cuts will occur in the next several years. But everyone knows they will happen.

When they do, local Jewish social service agencies that serve the weakest in our community will be left with fewer resources.

But that's not the only challenge that will hit agencies. They will also face more people knocking at their doors asking for help — people who will need basic aid when entitlement programs such as Medicaid and welfare are cut.

No matter how you look at it, it's a lose-lose situation.

The question is, how can the Jewish community help to buttress the safety net for the weakest among us? A number of Jewish leaders are already planning for the cuts by formulating ways to replace federal aid with private funds.

Charity, of course, can help to make up some of the federal cuts, but in tough economic times it is unlikely that agencies will raise enough to fill the gap.

In the next several years, the Jewish community will be called upon to help. Not only will charitable dollars be more important than ever, so will people's time. Some agencies will rely more and more on volunteers to accomplish the tasks once undertaken by staff members.

Volunteers are already helping the community function more than most people realize. One volunteer group that's getting stronger is made up of emigres from the former Soviet Union — who once relied on the very social services they now assist as volunteers.

At the Albert L. Schultz Jewish Community Center in Palo Alto alone, more than 100 ex-Soviet emigres donate their time, doing everything from preparing goods for bake sales or for the hungry to playing Yiddish music at the ALSJCC's events.

It is this sort of generosity that keeps the safety net in our community strong; it will be needed more than ever as federal cuts deepen. We must continue to encourage donations, but even more, we must lend a hand wherever our community needs one.