This year, we have been more grateful than ever to come together for good. Through your generosity, JUF--as always--funded local human services, Jewish education, continuity, identity-building, outreach and advocacy programs, assistance to millions of Jews in Israel and 70 countries worldwide, and allocations to charitable ventures.
But 2020--as we all know--has been a year like no other. In the wake of the pandemic, JUF instantly became a lifeline for tens of thousands of people who needed help--and fast.
Here are four of their stories…
Meet the people behind the masks
Meet Jonathan. He's a 6-year-old who loves Minecraft, Pokémon, and making challah with his Sunday School class. Before COVID, his mom--who works two jobs to make ends meet--would drop him off at school before class so he could enjoy a free breakfast, in addition to a free lunch at noon.
Then March brought the pandemic--and everything stopped. Jonathan's school shut its doors, and with it went many of his regular meals.
But Jonathan is not going hungry. Neither is his little brother, David--nor their mom.
JUF has provided additional food assistance to thousands of Chicago families and children, supplying $1.9 million in increased support for local pantries, grocery gift cards, and meal programs. Since the pandemic began, the Food & Chesed Collaborative--a partnership of five agencies in West Rogers Park--has served tens of thousands of meals to families like Jonathan's. The ARK, Maot Chitim, and other agencies battling hunger have pivoted to providing growing numbers of grocery gift cards to those in need. And the Dina and Eli Field EZRA Multi-Service Center has more than doubled the number of prepared meals and pantry bags it distributes during the pandemic.
"With generous support from the JUF COVID-19 Initiative, EZRA was able to quickly shift our services in response to the increased community demand for meals, fresh groceries, and emergency financial services in our area since the pandemic," said Heidi Kon, Director of the Dina and Eli Field EZRA Multi-Service Center. "We deeply appreciate JUF's support, which enabled EZRA to live up to its name and 'help' so many additional community members meet their basic needs during these difficult times."
Meet Sasha. She's a single 26-year-old who was furloughed from her social service agency job over the summer. Sasha's not only worried about paying her bills; she is also lonely. Always active in the Chicago Jewish community, she misses her jam-packed calendar: Shabbat dinners with friends, volunteering at an after-school program for kids, Tuesday trivia night at her local bar, and, yes, dating.
The isolation of the pandemic is wearing on Sasha and many other Jewish young adults. Research shows that the incidences of anxiety and depression are escalating overall, but that young people ages 18-34 are particularly struggling. That's why JUF has devoted nearly $2 million additional dollars to expanded social services this year-with special emphasis on mental health care.
Jewish young adults like Sasha are among the many people who are benefiting from mental health programs offered through JCFS Chicago and other JUF-supported agencies. At the same time, they are forging essential connections with each other--especially now--through nearly a dozen JUF partners serving young adults, from OneTable and Moishe House to MASA and Silverstein Base Hillel.
"Since this pandemic started, I have had meetings with 330 individuals who are part of our college student and 22- to 35-year-old young adult community," said Rabbi Megan GoldMarche, the Rabbi of Silverstein Base Hillel in Lincoln Park. "Time and time again, what I have most heard [about] is loneliness and anxiety; about the unpredictability that is inescapable in this moment." In addition to offering virtual classes with YLD and opportunities to share Chanukah experiences, "we are already thinking about how we will provide resources, food, and community for a second Passover in pandemic."
Meet Peter. He's a 56-year-old husband and father of two teens who was preparing for his eldest to head off to college next year. His kids aren't the only ones who depend on him: Peter also has a 93-year-old mother in assisted living he helps to support. But Peter lost his job in May, let go from the accounting firm where he had worked his entire career. He has always saved money in a rainy-day fund, but even that is starting to dry up.
JUF has been there for Peter and others in his shoes, supplying $4.4 million in added emergency financial aid for housing, food, and other essentials for those in need. That aid is being distributed through human service agency partners, schools, and even congregational rabbis' discretionary funds.
In addition to career counseling and help with financial planning, Peter is getting the emergency cash he needs to bridge the gaps in his household budget, ensuring he doesn't have to choose between paying his mortgage or covering the family's healthcare premiums.
Programs like the JCFS Chicago Financial Assistance Counseling Program have helped people through these devastating times. "The pandemic has impacted all of our lives--and for some people this has meant unemployment and an unexpected financial hardship," said Maureen Gray, JCFS Chicago Financial Social Work Counselor. "The counseling program has been able to provide emergency funds for people who might otherwise lose their home or not be able to buy groceries for their family."
Meet Estelle. She's an 84-year-old widow who is the mother of three and a grandma of seven. Her family lives scattered across the country and she hasn't been able to see them in person since last winter, since she is in a high-risk category for COVID. Estelle has always been a very social person, and has played canasta with the same group of friends for 50 years. Sadly, those gatherings stopped in March.
However, Estelle is in good spirits, thanks to her friends at CJE SeniorLife. It's among the JUF partner agencies that have helped local Jews to create virtual community during this time of physical separation. From virtual hubs like JCC Chicago's Channel J, to a fun line-up of virtual PJ Library programs for young families, to virtual meet-ups for people with disabilities hosted by Keshet, Jewish Chicago has built a sense of virtual community that keeps people connected and engaged.
Through CJE, Estelle has joined a cyber book club, "Move It Monday" fitness classes, and a virtual walking tour of Jane Addams Hull-House. Plus, she also looks forward to online chats with family and phone calls from a couple of her favorite CJE staff.
"The pandemic has really highlighted for CJE the real impacts of social isolation for older adults," said Dan Fagin, CJE SeniorLife President and CEO. "Our team responded by developing a wide variety of online programs to engage them, deploying technology to enable virtual visits with loved ones, and making regular phone calls just to let those living alone know that someone cares about them."
2020 was anything but business as usual. In addition to meeting the perennial needs of the community as we do every year, JUF responded to the COVID crisis--and we will continue to do so as long as it takes. After all, this is what we're made for.
One fund. So much impact.