BY DEBORAH MOON
By almost any measure, the Jewish Free Loan of Greater Portland has been a rousing success since its founding five years ago. The lending pool has doubled, there have been no defaults, loan amounts ahve increased, approval time has gotten shorter and a special pool of quick loans was added to meet COVID-related needs.
The only area where Free Loan needs to improve is community awareness of this resource designed to give a hand up to families and individuals.
“We are struggling in getting the word out to the community so we can make more loans,” says Free Loan Chair Les Gutfreund.
Since its inception in 2016, JFLGP has given $127,500 in loans to 52 individuals or families. This includes $107,000 in traditional loans and $20,500 in COVID-19 Emergency Loans. Loans have been given for many different needs including tuition assistance, Jewish overnight camp, teen Israel experiences, job loss or transitions, legal fees, housing assistance, paying off high-interest debt, family planning and small business loans.
Free Loan, which is under the auspices of the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland, now has about $220,000 in the lending pool, with $54,000 out in active loans.
“The fund started with $110,000 in 2016 and has doubled in size thanks to generous support and market gains,” says JFGP Director of Finance Ben Winkleblack, who staffs the Free Loan.
This month the maximum loan amount for residents of Oregon and SW Washington was increased to $5,000 with two cosigners. Loans up to $2,500 are available with one co-signer. Loans are interest free with repayment over three years.
Application-to-approval takes a few weeks, though Les says that timeline has been shortened recently with a shift to a virtual process including phone or Zoom interviews, DocuSign and direct deposit. “We are up with or ahead of some 100-year-old programs in terms of our turnaround time,” he says.
The program received $25,000 from the COVID relief fund facilitated jointly by the Oregon Jewish Community Foundation and Federation. These loans of up to $1,000 do not require a cosigner and application-to-approval takes just one to a few days. These loans are for people directly impacted by COVID-19. In response to the wildfires last summer, the applicant pool was expanded to include those impacted by the wildfires and may be continued to meet future emergencies.
“The Jewish Free Loan of Greater Portland’s long-range vision is to be able to offer larger loans, provide a limited number of loans that are backed by angel guarantors and ensure the long-term viability of the program through an endowment,” says Ben.
To increase the awareness of the program, last week Free Loan sent a letter to local rabbis encouraging them to make their congregations aware of the resource. The week’s Torah portion, Parshat Mishpatim, teaches about the mitzvot of helping our fellow Jews by lending money without interest.
“Jewish Free Loan of Greater Portland continues to carry out this Mishpatim commandment by loaning money at zero percent interest to Jews across Oregon and southwest Washington,” wrote Les. “JFLGP is here and ready to help Jews during COVID-19 as well. JFLGP’s interest-free loans help with living expenses, medical fees, legal fees, home repairs, student loans, interest-debt consolidation and for covering unexpected challenges that life throws us.”
“At Hebrew Free Loan, every person is met with understanding, respect, dignity, confidentiality and the agency’s sincere desire to help fellow Jews in times of need,” the letter concludes.
To apply for a loan or to donate, visit jewishportland.org/freeloan. For details, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call Les at 503-932-7783.