BY DEBORAH MOON
Thanks to the local Jewish community’s COVID-19-Emergency Campaign, funds are available to help individuals and families weather the economic storm triggered by the pandemic that threatens our health.
Yet many people suffering financially hesitate to reach out for that aid.
“We get a lot of people who have never had to ask for help before,” says Tavia Berrigan, Emergency Aid Program Manager at Jewish Family & Child Service.
Among the 63 new clients reaching out to JFCS for emergency aid was a family in which both parents were furloughed during Stay at Home orders. They were struggling to pay bills, yet they told Tavia that they also struggled to ask for help.
“We like to help people, not ask for help,” Tavia says the family told her. “They were struggling to pay utility bills and buy food.”
Thanks to Emergency Campaign grants of $33,000 per month for three months to JFCS for emergency financial assistance, Tavia was able to help the family. She not only approved the financial aid they needed, she referred them to a counselor so they could receive emotional support during these chaotic times.
Saying “Yes, I can help” has been the most gratifying part of Tavia’s job. “It’s gratifying when you hear their voice change. When they call, the voice is really stressed and by then end of the conversation the sense of relief. … It’s a scary time. To hear ‘Yes, I can help you’ can make a real difference in getting grounded.”
JFCS had to scale up its Emergency Aid Program rapidly when the crisis struck. While such aid has historically been a robust part of the agency, Tavia says it was scaled back over the past year to revamp the program. Tavia moved from the Development Office to Emergency Aid and jumped right in.
In addition to the 63 JFCS newcomers, Tavia has also fielded calls for aid from those who previously have used JFCS services such as disability, counseling or Holocaust survivor services. Since becoming Emergency Aid Manager March 19, Tavia has had 200 conversations. She has helped every person who called – some with financial aid or groceries, others with referrals to programs or agencies. Sunshine Division’s food pantry has set aside food boxes for JFCS case managers to pick up and deliver to clients.
Food and shelter (rental assistance) are the two major reasons people have requested emergency aid in the past two months.
JFCS was able to swiftly ramp up its emergency aid program thanks to the grants from the COVID-19 Emergency Campaign, which was launched in mid-March with funds from the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland, Oregon Jewish Community Foundation and a host of generous donors. The fund has now reached $857,000 and has distributed $625,000 to community organizations, including the monthly emergency aid funds to JFCS.
“We are grateful to the leadership of Jewish Family and Child Service as the primary organization supporting individuals in need of emergency financial assistance and mental health support at this time,” says JFGP President and CEO Marc Blattner. “They continue to meet the challenge each and every day. And I know their ‘door’ is open for anyone in our community in need, and I hope people take advantage of their support.”
JFCS Executive Director David Block, who arrived in Portland just a month before the crisis hit, says that funding has been critical in the agency’s work to help the community.
“I think it (emergency aid) is a critical service for the community – it is a real lifeline,” says David. “It is a true safety net preventing folks from not having enough food or not being able to pay rent.”
David urges the community to take advantage of that lifeline.
“Losing one’s job during a pandemic is not a cause for shame; it is a terrible circumstance we as a country are going through together,” he says. “Emergency assistance is a vehicle to take care of oneself and one’s family during these very difficult and very unusual circumstances.”
For more information or assistance, contact JFCS Emergency Aid Program Manager Tavia Berrigan at 503-226-7079 ext. 134 or email@example.com.
To contribute to the crisis campaign, go to: jewishportland.org/covid19relief.