Rapid Relief Fund nears $1 million in virus-related aid

Steve Smith, Hartford Courant

A fund to help people overcome hardships caused by the pandemic has been tremendously successful, and is close to the $1 million mark, across several efforts.

The Rapid Relief and Recovery fund began in March, as a collaboration between the Jewish Federation and Jewish Community Foundation, and recently granted $600,000 to address pandemic-related community needs.

The grants have gone to people, agencies, and synagogues of Greater Hartford’s Jewish community experiencing financial hardship due to the pandemic.

The fund provided $285,000 to 11 local Jewish agencies for emergency operating support, PPE, and need-based day school scholarships related to COVID-19; $227,000 to 17 local synagogues for unanticipated COVID-19 related High Holy Day expenses, operating support, and PPE; and $88,280 for local humanitarian assistance in the form of emergency food assistance, individual and family financial assistance, and PPE.

The federation and foundation provided $150,000 in seed funding and nearly 500 community members have contributed close to $1 million to the RRR Fund, including $300,000 in grants recommended by fund holders at the Jewish Community Foundation.

Jacob Schreiber, the foundation’s president and CEO, said the funds are being used for food, direct financial assistance for rent, and other needs.

“Thanks to the generous support of so many, this fund is providing humanitarian relief and bolstering the financial capacity of Jewish agencies and synagogues so they can continue providing important programs and services to our community throughout this crisis,” Schreiber said.

Of the remaining resources, the RRR Fund’s Grants Committee has earmarked $40,000 for unanticipated community needs and $137,000 for future humanitarian needs. Also, $175,000 was designated by major donors to establish the Jewish Free Loan Fund of Greater Hartford, a newer initiative that provides zero-interest loans to businesses.

“It provides interest-free loans on terms that are reachable for the people who borrow,” Schreiber said.

“For individuals and families, the limit is $5,000. You can also borrow to help sustain their own small businesses, and that is up to $7,500. It’s a pretty remarkable access to credit at no cost,” said David Waren, the federation’s president and CEO.

“Everybody was hurting,” Schreiber said, commenting on the fund’s vast reach. “Everybody could use some aid. We did it in a fashion that we found was equitable, that took into account the size of the agency or synagogue, the amount of participants or members that they had, and also the amount of difficulty that they found themselves in.”

The donations to the fund, Waren said, came from a variety of places - from companies and business people, as well as families and individuals - and while there has been, and is, great need, there has also been a lot of generosity.

“In this difficult period, people are finding meaning in their lives, and giving meaning to their lives, by helping others,” Waren said. “We have seen an outpouring of generosity from across this community. The needs are clear and philanthropists, of a variety of levels, from those of modest means to those who have more capacity, have been incredibly generous.”

The beneficiaries of the relief fund are not limited to the Jewish community.

“The philanthropic efforts around this fund... have gone to the benefit of the broader community as well, because many of the agencies we support serve the broader community,” Waren said, citing that the Jewish Community center, for example, has a membership that is only approximately half Jewish.

As for the future of the fund, there will be a switching of gears for the federation as well as the foundation. Ongoing grant programs will still be in place, and the organizations are “standing by” to see what the needs become as the pandemic and economy take new shapes.

“We are standing by,” Waren said. “We are very flexible and recognize that we may need to go to a stage 2, we just don’t know yet. Everything is leading us to pause in terms of special fundraising, but we are absolutely ready, and many of the philanthropists are, if we need to. We’re also looking at the longer-term needs in the community.”

For a comprehensive look at the RRR Fund, visit bit.ly/RRRFundImpactReport.