Minneapolis Jewish Federation Responds To COVID-19 Crisis

When COVID-19 hit in Minnesota and synagogues and agencies started closing their doors, everyone was hopeful that it would be a short-term solution. Quickly, however, Minneapolis Jewish Federation began to step up. Since March 21, Federation has awarded more than $800,000 in grants to assist organizations and individuals.

“We are tremendously thrilled that we’re able to be there for the community and do this in this way,” said Federation CEO Jim Cohen. “It doesn’t escape me that this is what Federation is all about. It’s in a crisis that it really shines because we have a 30,000-foot view of the community, the means, talent, and resources. We were ready to go since the first call [in early March].”

MJF began distributing funding on March 19, when it opened a fund for individuals in economic distress at Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Minneapolis. Shortly thereafter, MJF awarded “morale grants” of $50,360 to 40 schools, organizations, and synagogues in the Twin Cities area.

The MJF board quickly set aside $2 million in unrestricted assets to make immediate grants to help local agencies with urgent needs (tech needs, staffing support) and later, longer-term needs like loss of income. Since that board vote on March 21, MJF has distributed funds to eight local schools, synagogues, and organizations, as well as its two overseas partners. The overseas allocation was $360,000, and was separate from the $2 million. (Editor’s note: TC Jewfolk has received funding as part of this process).

Funds have been used by schools to start distance learning programs from scratch and connect students without internet access, by Sholom to purchase personal protective equipment, and have provided emergency cash to organizations whose galas, fee-for-service activities, and other normal business operations are at a halt.

Federation Board President Todd Leonard said that what had been a two-year strategic plan roll-out, ended up happening in about a month as a response to the virus.

“We had to look at how to operate and address the critical needs of the community locally, nationally and overseas, and how to implement it in a speed that’s meaningful and thoughtful,” he said. “In less than 2 months, we have significantly brought the community together. What we’re seeing in the response we’ve had is so dynamic. It’s incredible to be a part of, but also to be surrounded by such gifted, caring and thoughtful professionals to allow the full plan to be implemented.”

The coordinated response, Leonard said, shows the value of the Federated-giving model.

“In this time of pandemic, the need for a coordinated effort is so apparent,” Leonard said. “You can see the true value of a Federated force to make sure it all comes together, and does so in a way that there is a meaningful outcome.”

Cohen and Leonard both discussed the need to be a vibrant community on the other side of this crisis, and that planning for how to do that is already underway.

“We have an obligation to do our best to make sure the community can continue to be a strong, vibrant, safe home when the crisis is over,” said Cohen. “We are committed to making sure that happens.”

This article is part of TC Jewfolk’s Partnership program. For more information, check out our media kit.