The coronavirus crisis is by no means new, but it’s one that Ruth Olkon has been facing 24/7 for the last eight-plus months. As the CEO at Jewish Family Service of St. Paul, she has seen the needs that her community faces grow dramatically – with no sign of stopping.
“We are in a crisis, to be honest,” she said. “This is the time to provide a crisis response at a community level.”
As coronavirus cases are on the rise throughout the Twin Cities and taxing already stretched thin agencies, the St. Paul Jewish Federation is launching an initiative to help.
The Yad B’Yad Campaign For COVID Relief has a goal to raise upwards of $1.5 million, with an immediate goal of $200,000 by the end of the year; a Jewish Federation of North America initiative will match 50 percent of funds raised up to $200,000 by Dec. 31.
“We recognize that people and agencies are hurting, and demand has increased,” said Ted Flaum, St. Paul Jewish Federation’s CEO. “At end of the day, don’t think there won’t be many families who aren’t impacted by COVID.”
Flaum said that the Federation put out a needs assessment survey to community agencies to see what they needed before starting the campaign.
“We know that protection is critical – PPE and masking whether it’s the JCC or Sholom,” he said. “Testing at Sholom is $38,000 a week, and we want to support them for all they’re doing to keep their clients and staff safe.”
Olkon said that every day, JFS is getting calls for people in need of financial assistance, which the organization offers.
“We’re responding to people who need financial assistance to stay in their homes, pay bills, or to fix cars that they need to go to the low-wage jobs they have to go to so we can work from home,” she said. “It’s relentless.”
The Kosher Meals on Wheels program, which JFS runs in partnership with the St. Paul JCC, has seen demand go from 20 people participating on March 15 to a high of 52. The program has served more than 5,600 meals since the start of the pandemic. There has been a 50 percent increase in requests due to COVID-19.
This fundraising effort is in addition to the St. Paul Federation’s annual campaign, Flaum said that all of the funds raised in the Yad B’ Yad campaign will go to the needs – with no administrative fees taken out.
“The campaign is appealing for a lot of donors who don’t give to Federation campaigns, it allows them to do something to support the Jewish community,” he said. “
Jimmy Levine, a Mendota Heights physician who is the chairperson of the campaign, said that Flaum thought it would be useful to have a physician leading the effort. He said that the campaign is for a special reason but with a traditional message.
“We’re looking out for the community and how we can do that in this time of need and to position us and be stronger and in position to grow once this is past us,” he said. “We don’t just want to survive; we want to survive and thrive.”