Social welfare calls bolster community bonds

To ease loneliness caused by COVID-19 social distancing during Passover this year, the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona and the Jewish Community Foundation organized a Passover ‘Potluck’ held via Zoom on April 13, one of the intermediate days of the holiday.

As part of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona and Jewish Community Foundation response to the coronavirus pandemic, staff and volunteers have made more than 1,300 social welfare phone calls to members of the community. The project is ongoing.

“It started with my desire to reach out to donors of the Federation campaign to see how they were doing during this time,” says Fran Katz, JFSA senior vice president, adding that initial calls were made to donors of $1 and up.

However, it is not just donors who have been called, she says. “It’s the most vulnerable — it’s anybody In the Jewish community that we think might be in need,” including those on the Federation’s Senior Transportation program list.

JCF staff also called their fund holders, just to check in, says Brenda Landau, JCF director of legacy development.

Some 99% of those reached reported “all is well” and were appreciative of the calls, says Gail Barnhill, JFSA executive assistant. Around 20 welcomed the idea of weekly or more frequent follow-up calls, while others passed along the names of friends who are isolated.

About half a dozen people requested help with getting groceries or referred friends who needed grocery help. Jewish Family & Children’s Services and Interfaith Community Services are providing emergency financial assistance or grocery delivery, supported by the Jewish Community Pandemic Relief Fund. At least one individual who was called volunteered to do shopping for others. Six people who requested Russian-speaking callers also were referred to JFCS.

“One thing that we learned was how lonely people were going to be during Passover,” says Landau. “And so in response we put together a Passover ‘Potluck’” that brought people together for a festive meal via Zoom on April 13. Graham Hoffman, JCF president and CEO and JFSA president and CEO-elect, and Sharon Glassberg, JFCS clinical therapist and community educator, provided brief holiday remarks. More than 30 people participated in the potluck.

Along with Katz and Landau, some of the dozens of people making phone calls were Ori Green, JCF legacy officer; Robyn Schwager, JCF grants and legacy officer; Phyllis Gold, director of the Federation’s Ruth and Irving Olson Center for Jewish Life, with her colleagues in the Northwest, Marti Cohen and Carol Nudelman;  and Carol Sack, then Jewish Tucson concierge. JFSA volunteers included Melissa Goldfinger, Karen Katz, Leslie Glaze, and Andy Kunsberg. Some volunteers also enlisted friends from the Jewish community and the broader community in the effort.

One caller advised a young man who had moved to Chicago to be with his mother that if she needed help, he should check with Chicago’s JFCS and its Federation, The Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago, Barnhill reports. Four hours later, he phoned the volunteer back and emotionally expressed his appreciation for the referrals.

“The project to reach as many people of our community at once was very satisfying,” says Kunsberg, who project organizers credit with making a large number of calls.

“Many who answered were very appreciative about the concern we had about our Jewish community,” he says. He recalls one family who called him back after he had left a message to convey their gratitude, and another who needed grocery assistance, which he was able to facilitate.

Projects such as this, Kunsberg says, “are what makes our Jewish community a community who cares.”

For more information, to volunteer, or to place a name on the call list, visit
jfsa.org/pandemic or call 577-9393.