Counties Counting On This

Summer is officially here! With school out, I know hundreds of children from the metro area are participating in Jewish day and overnight camps. In fact, our One Happy Camper program (incentive grants for first-time Jewish overnight camp participants) helped children attend ten camps across America and Canada. The national One Happy Camper program is specifically geared to families who do not send their children to Jewish day school. I am proud that our Jewish Federation sets aside additional funds (one of a handful of Jewish communities to do so) to provide incentive grants to Jewish day school students, as well. This year we provided 73 grants in total (19 attend Jewish day school) to children from our area. If you are still looking for summer camp options, please call the Jewish Federation at 503-245-6219.

With summer comes the opportunity to celebrate Shabbat outside. Many of our local synagogues and other community organizations are taking advantage of the warmer, sunnier weather and celebrating on their plazas or in neighborhood parks. Check the community calendar for listings for this special "only-in-summer" very Portland way to mark Shabbat.

The past two weeks I have written about the decisions made by the Jewish Federation’s Allocations Committee and Overseas Special Projects Committee. I am not involved in either of these processes, yet recognize the hours of information gathering, learning, and deliberations that take place to make the final and difficult decisions. The overarching question is always how to best meet the needs with finite resources.

Several weeks ago I received an email from the Director of the United Way of Cowlitz and Wahkiakum Counties (in SW Washington – Kelso, WA) inviting me to work with their local community organizations to allocate funds from Phase 33 of the Emergency Food and Shelter Program (EFSP). EFSP was established in 1983 to help meet the needs of hungry and homeless people throughout the United States by allocating federal funds for the provision of food and shelter. Since its inception, EFSP has distributed $4.2 billion to over 14,000 human service agencies in more than 2,500 communities across the country. The original legislation created a National Board, chaired by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) that consisted of representatives of the American Red Cross, Catholic Charities USA, Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA, The Salvation Army and United Way Worldwide. Because of JFNA's national involvement I was asked to serve on the committee as the “local” Federation representative.

EFSP provided $58,849 to Cowlitz County and Wahkiakum Counties. This amount is based on the unemployment rate and poverty rate by county (Multnomah/Clackamas/Washington Counties received $740,000 in total). Funds from EFSP can only be used for food provision (served meals or groceries), lodging in a mass shelter or hotel, one month's rent or mortgage payment, one month's utility bill, and the equipment necessary to feed or shelter people, up to a $300 limit per item.

As one would expect, the funding requests from multiple organizations exceeded the dollars available. What I found so interesting was the approach our committee took to allocating the funds. As is typical, the first suggestion was to reduce each organization’s request by the same percentage to get to the amount available. That to me was the “easy way out,” as difficult decisions require difficult conversations. We continued our deliberations and systematically weighed numbers of people served, how to differentiate between food provider organizations, and what services we should provide at shelter organizations. We had to make the best decisions possible based on the information in our hands.

In the end, our committee (made up of local representatives of the national organizations, a leader from the Cowlitz Tribal Council, and a gentleman who was formerly homeless (a requirement for the committee) who now works at a shelter) funded a rental assistance program to help homeless families pay their first month’s rent in an apartment, funded two emergency support shelters, and provided resources to three food banks in the area servicing thousands of people on a regular basis.

I was pleased to represent the Jewish Federation at this meeting. It was certainly a learning experience for me about the challenges facing the Cowlitz and Wahkiakum Counties area – and there are many. These two counties are certainly counting on this funding. And, it was informative for me to experience an allocations process with a different lens and in a different community I knew very little about. I look forward to our next meeting in six months to see the impact of these dollars and what is next for the community.

On a separate note, special congratulations to Jewish Federation board member Shelly Klapper, who is being recognized this Sunday by Congregation Shaarie Torah as this year's recipient of the Harry R. Nemer Service Award. Shelly is a dedicated community leader and we wish him a hearty mazel tov on this well-deserved honor.

Shabbat shalom and enjoy the start of summer.


PS – Here is a beautiful story about philanthropy and the largest gift ever made to Israel that will support Ben-Gurion University in Beersheva.


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