“So many people already live paycheck to paycheck,” said Meredith Joy, director of the JF&CS Center for Basic Needs Assistance. “When the public health crisis began, we saw hundreds of families go from relative stability to all-out emergency.”

JF&CS has long been a safety net for the Jewish community and people of all backgrounds facing economic insecurity. During the pandemic, however, our agency has seen unprecedented levels of need. Requests for food, emergency financial assistance and help applying for public benefits have skyrocketed in recent months.

“Serving our clients during this crisis has been one of the most challenging experiences of my life,” said Meredith. “At the same time, it has been completely gratifying and inspiring to watch our community come together to make sure everyone is taken care of during these difficult times.”

Kosher Food for Those in Need

Before the COVID-19 outbreak, our Family Table food pantry was already providing groceries to more than 500 households each month. Since March, nearly 200 additional families have received emergency groceries as well.

“Many people have lost their jobs and suddenly have no money to feed their families,” shared Bernice Behar, director of Family Table. “We have also been hearing from frail older adults, many of them Holocaust survivors, who simply can’t risk going to a supermarket to purchase food.”

Chart showing the increase in Family Table emergency groceries since the start of COVID-19.When the crisis began, Family Table quickly pivoted to meet the new socially distant reality. Regular monthly food deliveries have continued on schedule, with volunteers packing grocery orders outdoors. Additionally, Family Table’s weekly in-person food distributions have been converted to a contactless drive-through format. “It took a little creativity,” said Bernice. “But we’ve been able to ramp up our food distributions while keeping our staff, volunteers and clients safe.”

JF&CS has also launched a new emergency grocery delivery program for people who need food urgently but can’t get to one of our pantry locations. Family Table has been able to draw upon its roster of more than 1,200 dedicated volunteers to make these critical deliveries.

“We have been blown away by the response of Family Table volunteers during the pandemic,” said Bernice. “In just one week after the crisis began, 65 new volunteers responded to our call for assistance.”

Keeping Clients in Their Homes

Since the pandemic began, JF&CS has heard from numerous clients whose finances have been completely upended. When Lena* reached out to us in early April, she knew her family wouldn’t be able to pay rent that month. Her husband, Brad*, had been laid off from his new job, and his initial application for unemployment benefits was denied. To make matters worse, the youngest of Lena and Brad’s three children, a 9-month-old baby, was still suffering from significant medical complications due to being born prematurely.

JF&CS was able to ease the worry and anxiety that Lena and Brad had about keeping their family afloat. The first step was to address their immediate food needs by providing groceries from Family Table. The next step was to pay for one month of rent to keep the family current while Brad’s unemployment appeal took place.

Chart showing the increase in emergency financial assistance since the start of COVID-19.

“Lena and Brad’s situation is all too common right now,” said Meredith. “The need for emergency financial assistance for essentials like rent and utilities has never been higher.” While there is a short-term moratorium on evictions and terminations for fuel and utilities, these measures are temporary, and when the moratoriums are lifted, people will be responsible for paying the amount they owe.

“We encourage people to reach out to JF&CS as soon as possible,” added Meredith. “Whether it is emergency financial assistance or an interest-free loan, there are a variety of ways we can help.”

Navigating the Complex World of Benefits

The economic crisis has prompted thousands of people in Massachusetts to apply for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as food stamps), but the application process can be complicated and overwhelming. During the COVID-19 outbreak, the SNAP advocates at JF&CS Bet Tzedek Legal Services have been working tirelessly to help clients obtain the benefits they are entitled to.

Chart showing in the increase in Bet Tzedek legal consultations since the start of COVID-19.

“The public benefits landscape has shifted dramatically since the pandemic began,” said Meredith. “Our Bet Tzedek team has been an invaluable resource when it comes to benefit matters, both for our clients and for our colleagues at other Jewish communal partner agencies.”

Noah* and Sandy* were referred to JF&CS by their rabbi after their application for SNAP benefits was denied. Lindsey Daley, our senior SNAP advocate, worked with the Department of Transitional Assistance to resolve the issue with the family’s application and identified two areas where Noah and Sandy were eligible for additional benefits. The family now receives $768 per month in regular SNAP and an additional pandemic-related SNAP benefit of $1,197 to provide food for their children while they are home from school.

Receiving benefits and financial assistance makes a world of difference for our clients. In a thank you message, one of our clients wrote, “You have helped me experience the goodness in this world. You are really doing God’s work here on Earth.”

*Names changed to protect privacy.

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