Kathryn Winogura of Jewish Family & Community Services East Bay and Michaela Schiffer of Julia’s Kosher Kitchen ready meals for delivery. (Photo/Courtesy JFCS East Bay)
Kathryn Winogura of Jewish Family & Community Services East Bay and Michaela Schiffer of Julia’s Kosher Kitchen ready meals for delivery. (Photo/Courtesy JFCS East Bay)

JFCS East Bay casts ‘safety net’ to Jews set back by pandemic

Concerned with reaching out to help the most vulnerable, Jewish Family & Community Services East Bay has created an initiative to provide expanded help — from friendly phone calls to actual cash — to Jews facing difficulties because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Just send people our way and we’ll do what we can,” said Avi Rose, executive director of JFCS East Bay.

The program, the Jewish Community Safety Net, offers emergency cash assistance for food, housing or medical expenses; help with getting government benefits, such as unemployment insurance; grocery drop-offs for seniors, people who are chronically ill and others vulnerable to Covid-19; and mental health and therapy services by phone or video chat.

The new program sees the agency expanding its network beyond usual clients, such as Holocaust survivors and refugee families.

“Any Jew who lives in the East Bay” can apply, Rose said.

Some of the services, such as shopping help, were quickly put in place as the pandemic and shelter-in-place orders disarranged lives.

Avi Rose
Avi Rose

“There are some elements that started right as soon as the pandemic hit, out of necessity,” Rose said. “People were panicky and uncertain, especially around food.”

Others elements in the program, such as cash payments, are new.

While JFCS East Bay did provide financial assistance to Holocaust survivors, now any Jew who lives in the East Bay can apply for emergency help. According to Holly Taines White, senior director of development and community engagement, JFCS East Bay expects to give out around $60,000 over the first three months of the program. Rose said it’s unusual for the agency to offer cash payments, but that it is a response to unprecedented times.

“We’re disbursing money to people who need it,” he said. “For housing, for medication, for food.”

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the agency has been rallying caseworkers and grocery delivery volunteers.

“Our agency has not closed for a day,” Rose said. “If anything, we’re busier.”

Food and housing insecurities are the most urgent, Rose said, which is par for the course in the Bay Area but are compounded by the unemployment that has followed the shuttering of businesses.

“As always, in the Bay Area housing is the big issue,” Rose said. “It’s completely out of hand for a lot of people.”

The safety net program is going to run for the foreseeable future, Rose said.

“We’ll get past this period, but there’s still going to be financial hardship in the community,” he said.

JFCS East Bay will do its best to rally funding for the project, Rose said, reflecting the Jewish community’s commitment to support its vulnerable members.

“We operate as an instrument of the values and priorities of our community,” he said.

For details about the Jewish Community Safety Net, visit jfcs-eastbay.org, send an email to jcsn@jfcs-eastbay.org or call or (510) 704-7475 ext. 716.

Maya Mirsky
Maya Mirsky

Maya Mirsky is a J. Staff Writer based in Oakland.