Helping People in Need During the Pandemic: Jewish Family Service

“It was one of those days,” recalls JFS’ Mental Health Clinical Director Hannah Leiterman, LCSW, but throughout the pandemic “those days” have been occurring at high speed. “My client had just received her first paycheck from her new job, but because of COVID, it wasn’t as many hours as she wanted. She had to decide: Pay the internet or electric bill? Both were critical to her children’s online schooling. Coupled with the stress of parenting her energetic, homebound elementary and junior high aged students under sub-standard conditions…her situation became too much to bear”.

At Shop Rite, her food stamps card would not work. After 90 minutes on the phone, the woman learned that even though her card “was simply worn out”, she would not receive a new one by mail for over a week.  Leiterman emphasizes, “This meant my client would not have access to the money still left on it – food money that she had been counting on.” Thankfully, one email to Sandy Hagan at the JFS Nutrition Program Food Pantry quickly resulted in a scheduled pick-up of a bag of emergency food for this client and her family.

         After contacting her fellow social worker Rachel Scolnic, Leiterman’s client was granted emergency funds to help pay her internet bill and a “good faith” fraction of her electric bill.  The JFS SOS (Social Work Outreach Services) team steered her through the daunting process of applying for energy assistance though the Community Action Agency of New Haven.  “She was reassured her electricity could not be shut off during the pandemic,” says Leiterman. “Once her immediate needs were addressed, our team was free to focus on the client’s anxiety and the violence in her past that had brought her to treatment.”

Similarly, Scolnic worked with an unemployed single mom, “in a bad situation.”  She fell behind in rent, was about to be evicted, and lacked expenses needed to care for her 10-year-old son, who was attending school virtually from home.”  Emergency relief came swiftly though via the Covid-19 Maimonides Response Fund, and this mom was able to pay one month’s rent and purchase school supplies.  Combining their multiple social service arms, JFS supplied her with pantry staples and helped her apply for food stamps and a job.  Scolnic reports, “Her employer will be creating a new position for her.”

“The Covid-19 Fund was useful,” adds Leiterman, “Because it allowed us to say, ‘Don’t worry about money or insurance’… making it possible to treat our clients who needed emergent mental health treatment.  I had a client who lost his job and his private insurance on top of complex child custody issues.   He just couldn’t pull it together, or even think.  This fund enabled us to treat him right away during his most critical moment. Once he got on Medicaid, other things fell into place.”        

The lifelines granted to these parents helped them navigate through “those days” of despair into brighter days ahead.  

Since the pandemic, JFS has seen an uptick in demand for mental health services and support of critical human needs, and thanks to a grant from the Jewish Federation and Jewish Foundation’s COVID-19 Maimonides Response Fund, they were able to respond. Other beneficiaries included The Towers at Tower Lane, Ezra Academy, Southern Connecticut Hebrew Academy, Jewish Community Alliance for Refugee Resettlement, and area synagogues for direct assistance to individuals and families in need. The Fund now has at least $300,000 more in emergency grant requests. All gifts are needed and much appreciated. Now through December 31, there will be a 50% match on all new gifts (the match is thanks to the Jewish Federations of North America and national funders). 

Help People Affected by COVID-19

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