Alex Cristall, Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver board chair, arrived early at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver on Jan. 26 to sign community recovery cheques for grant recipients. (photo by Rob Trendiak)
On Jan. 26, the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver released the first round of community recovery funding to address the urgent needs arising from the pandemic’s impacts. A total of $416,000 in grants was distributed among 21 partner agencies and community organizations.
“When COVID first hit, we immediately developed a comprehensive strategic approach to address its impact,” Ezra Shanken, chief executive officer of Jewish Federation, told the Independent. “We met with our partner agencies to learn firsthand about how they were coping, and we released $505,000 in emergency funding just days into the initial lockdown.
“We then worked closely with major donors to launch the Community Recovery Fund, which became a key focus of the annual campaign. We also established the Community Recovery Task Force, comprised of well-respected and experienced community leaders, to work with us to respond effectively to the immediate and long-term consequences of COVID that are affecting our community agencies. During the annual campaign, we asked donors to make an additional gift to support community recovery, if they could.
“We have always been fortunate to have an extremely generous community, and the depth of giving this year has been extraordinary,” he said. “Community members have responded to the call to help in unparalleled ways, however they can. They understand the breadth and scope of need, the immense challenges facing organizations, individuals and families, and that recovery will take some time. Most of all, they appreciate that we are all partners in recovery, and have really stepped up to play their part.”
The initial relief grants were distributed to 19 of Jewish Federation’s partner agencies, as well as to the Louis Brier Home and Hospital and the Hebrew Free Loan Association.
“For the first round of grants, all Jewish community organizations were invited to apply for up to $25,000, regardless of their size,” explained Risa Levine, chair of the Community Recovery Task Force. “Our priority was to meet organizations’ urgent needs resulting from the pandemic, and to ensure they could continue to deliver their programs and services. In the next few weeks, as part of this initial round of funding, we will be recommending grants for synagogues and other places of worship. These grants will be awarded in late February.
“The task force expects the two rounds of funding after that will focus on longer-term needs,” she said. “For example, are there organizational changes that would substantially increase an agency’s capacity to deliver their programs? We also recognize that the pandemic has gone on longer than anyone anticipated, and that the uncertainty of what lies ahead continues. New needs may emerge and COVID-related government subsidies, which have helped a lot of our agencies, may end. So, ensuring organizations’ ongoing sustainability in the face of pressures created by the pandemic will continue to be a priority.”
When the task force met with community organizations last summer and fall, the focus was on understanding how the pandemic had affected the programs and services they offer. While the details differed, said Levine, “they all had been impacted by COVID in similar ways.
“Based on this information, the task force identified six themes, which ultimately became funding categories for the recovery grant application: technology upgrades; critical social services; COVID-related expenses; revenue and rental losses; mental health support for staff and community members; and organizational capacity. Community organizations were invited to apply for a grant to meet urgent, COVID-related needs in two of these six categories.”
The recovery grants comprise but one of three funding streams being distributed in the next couple of months. Other financial assistance will come from the Jewish Community Foundation’s Unrestricted Grant Program, and allocations from the Federation’s annual campaign.
“The Jewish Community Foundation’s Unrestricted Grant Program is designed to complement Jewish Federation’s annual campaign allocations by providing charitable organizations with seed money to support new, innovative programs and services,” explained Shanken.
Grants awarded through the program “give charitable organizations the opportunity to pilot initiatives that address the community’s evolving needs, or to launch startup and capital projects,” he said. “Once the programs demonstrate success over several years, they may then qualify for ongoing funding through Jewish Federation’s allocations.
“This year,” he added, “the foundation adapted some conditions of the program to be as responsive as possible to organizations challenged to deliver their programs and services in new and innovative ways. In this way, the Unrestricted Grant Program is complementing the work of Jewish Federation’s Community Recovery Task Force, which has identified areas of critical need through its consultation process with community organizations.”
The Unrestricted Grant Program funds for 2021 will be awarded in mid-February.
“Jewish Federation has always been proactive and strategic about preparing for crises, so that we can lead a coordinated community response,” said Shanken. “And, while this is unlike anything the community has ever been through, we are in a strong position to respond. We have in place the infrastructure, the community planning expertise, and the staff and team of experienced leaders needed to respond swiftly and effectively to the enormity and ongoing uncertainty of COVID’s impact.
“We know how vital it is to get funds working in the community, and this involves so much more than fundraising,” he noted. “As the pandemic evolves, we will continue to adapt our strategic approach so that we are well-positioned for today and tomorrow, and to convene with all of our stakeholders so that we have our finger on the pulse of the community and can problem-solve together. We’re also collaborating with Jewish federations across North America to leverage their collective knowledge and capacity.”
Levine acknowledged the board and staff of our local Jewish Federation “for their vision and professionalism in organizing the task force and leading the recovery process, as well as the many generous donors who have supported this crucial work.”
She said, “I have been inspired and buoyed by the commitment and passion of everyone involved in the task force’s work to ensure that our community continues to function effectively: by the task force members for their dedication to the work, and by the community organizations for their candour and resilience in adapting their operations to meet the needs of community members.
“The biggest challenge,” she said, “has been to focus and refine our work to be able to respond effectively to the needs we learned about. Hearing firsthand about the challenges that organizations faced revealed the enormity of COVID’s impact through a sharper, more personal lens that added another layer of urgency to our work.”
Despite the challenges, Shanken said, “I remain positive because of the tremendous fortitude and the outpouring of compassion and generosity that I see every day. I am incredibly proud of how this community has pulled together to tackle the road to recovery, and am convinced that we will emerge stronger.”
For more information, visit jewishvancouver.com.