Federation leaders set strategies for dealing with financial crisis
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Federation leaders set strategies for dealing with financial crisis

As stocks continued to plummet last week, UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey gathered together its staff, lay leaders, and the heads of the area’s two Jewish Family Service organizations to map out a response to the financial crisis.

Participants left last Tuesday’s meeting at UJA-NNJ’s Paramus headquarters with new strategies for publicizing existing social services and creating new ones to help people cope with economic troubles.

“It got everybody around the table and we began talking about how to address the needs of the community,” Leah Kaufman, executive director of Jewish Family and Children’s Service of North Jersey in Wayne, told The Jewish Standard on Monday.

Zvi Marans, UJA-NNJ’s vice president.

While many in the financial industry are already feeling the economic hurt, Kaufman doesn’t believe the community will feel the full impact of the downturn until December or January. That will also depend on the market and the outcome of the presidential election.

The crisis is particularly affecting segments of the community that typically have not needed social services before. After last week’s meeting, the federation and JFS launched an ad campaign to make people more aware of available aid and resources while emphasizing confidentiality.

“It’s extremely difficult for families who’ve never had to reach out to social service agencies,” Kaufman said.

Rabbi Neal Borovitz of River Edge’s Temple Sholom called the gathering “the best meeting” he’s attended in his 20-plus years in the area, because of the outreach efforts.

“Through our family services we’re going to be proactive in reaching out to people who are being adversely affected by the economic crisis facing America,” he said.

The rabbi noted that his synagogue took in twice as much food as usual during its Yom Kippur food drive last week.

“We know that there are people who have been affected at all levels,” Howard Charish, UJA-NNJ’s executive vice president, told the Standard late last week. “There are very few people who feel financially safe, whether they’re affluent, middle class, or at the poverty line. Nevertheless, there are people who are able to be of help at this time.”

Many people are maxing out their credit cards by using them for day-to-day expenses, Kaufman said. JF&CS has already seen a rise in requests for Hebrew Free loans. Landlords are having trouble collecting rent, and renters are having trouble paying rent. Seniors are worried about their pensions as well as heating bills through the winter.

Additionally, requests for kosher Meals on Wheels have risen, as have needs for counseling services.

At present, JF&CS provides services to more than 2,000 people a year. Kaufman expects that number to increase by at least 20 percent.

JF&CS counseling services are operating on a budget deficit, Kaufman said, although she did not provide the specific numbers. Donations have decreased and, unlike Jewish Family Service of Bergen County in Teaneck, JF&CS does not receive government funding.

JFS of Bergen County received a FEMA grant earlier this year but that grant was used up within three months, said Lisa Fedder, JFS’s executive director.

JFS reported a projected 10 percent increase in demand for kosher Meals on Wheels from 22,000 to more than 24,000. The program’s budget, however, is down $4,000 from the $26,000 JFS collected last year.

JFS has already witnessed a 60 percent increase in requests for help paying rent and utilities, as well as a 55 percent increase in requests for case management and vocational services.

Fedder warned of rises in domestic and substance abuse, as well as marital problems and behavioral problems in children. JFS intends to reach out to the day schools to identify counseling needs among children and families.

“It’s really important that people take the time and check in with people around them,” Fedder said. “It may be harder to give now because we’re all feeling it, but now is probably the most important time to give. This is really urgent.”

Earlier this month, the federation sent an e-mail to its business and professional divisons asking for volunteers to donate their services, such as legal advice in dealing with foreclosures and landlord disputes.

“Right now we are in the grip of fear and, to a certain extent, panic that is causing some irrational responses,” said Dan Kirsch, chair of UJA-NNJ’s Jewish Community Relations Council.

Organizers are already planning to add components such as food and clothing drives to the annual Mitzvah Day to help deal with the situation.

“I think that the business and professional community is going to come through with services and with contributions, both with time and resources,” Kirsch said.

Despite its own financial crunch, UJA-NNJ believes the community will pull together in this crisis as it has done in other crises. The federation’s 2008 annual campaign closed last month with a total of $13,245,336, more than $1 million below the goal set last year.

“All over the country we’re finding that needs are increasing and philanthropy is decreasing,” said Zvi Marans, UJA-NNJ’s vice president and campaign chair. “We’re going to be turning to those who are able to help us so that we can help those who are needy.”

The federation had some cause for optimism on fund-raising after its annual major gifts dinner on Oct. 5. UJA-NNJ pulled in $263,000, a 10 percent increase from last year.

“That was a nice result and it shows that people who are still in good economic situations understand the needs and are stepping up to the plate,” Marans said.

Work on the 2009 campaign began last month but no goal has been set yet.

“We’re in the process of reassessing where we can emphasize our campaign efforts to better address the increased local needs that are going to be emerging,” he said. “We are not sure yet of the extent of these local needs, but we are proactively working on anticipating them.”

The federation has asked the two JFS organizations to prepare budget projections so it can begin planning.

“We don’t want to have a waiting list,” Charish said. “This is too pressing to have a waiting list.”

Although concerned about operating budgets, federation and JFS leaders were confident that community members would step forward to help the social service agencies get through the crunch.

“People in the community have been very generous when dealing with disasters,” Fedder said. “This is a different kind of disaster but it’s real economic trouble. There’s not one person who’s not aware of or impacted or anxious of what’s going on.”

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