Jewish Free Loan’s original March plans to celebrate an office expansion were postponed indefinitely when people began implementing protocols for social distancing. Instead of toasting its growth and hanging mezuzot in a new space, JFL changed gears and instituted an emergency relief loan program for the Jewish community in response to the health and economic crises caused by the coronavirus.
With its focus on unexpected challenges beyond anyone’s control, the emergency relief program is also being employed in a time-sensitive manner, JFL stated in a press release.
Ellen Friedman Sacks, JFL’s associate executive director, explained that people in the service industry and those who are self-employed are calling to receive emergency support. “More than half of the Economic Crisis Loans distributed in the last week were to people who lost their jobs due to the closure of restaurant dining rooms, and the number of inquiries and applications for interest-free loans continue to grow,” Sacks wrote in an email.
Current borrowers are also calling in to defer repayment temporarily, because they’re facing new and unexpected costs. JFL is accommodating these requests in addition to managing new loans.
Established by Jewish philanthropists in Phoenix in the 1940s and incorporated into an official nonprofit in 1950, JFL has been making interest-free loans to the Jewish community for all manner of needs including, but not limited to, medical and dental expenses, education, adoption and travel to Israel. Their mission is to help people meet their goals without the penalties of accrued interest. Those needs are now increasing exponentially.
Jessielyn Hirschl started as JFL’s marketing and communications manager in January, just two months before the pandemic hit. Last fall, she designed a financial literacy guide to give out as part of JFL’s crisis response program.
Hirschl pointed out that JFL is not a bank — even though the word “loan” is in the name. They don’t charge interest in order to profit from the loans they make to the Jewish community. “We’re humans interacting with other humans,” Hirschl said. JFL is interested in giving people the help they need to improve their lives. Right now, that help may also be keeping people afloat when they otherwise might not be.
People who have benefitted from JFL’s loans have shared with Hirschl touching stories of unexpected deaths when people didn’t have other means to provide a proper Jewish burial for a family member adding stress to an already difficult situation. They’ve also shared with her the happiness of being able to adopt or have IVF treatments.
“You meet the kids after and see how tearfully happy parents are to have had the assistance to be able to be a mom when they’ve known their whole life they want to be a mom,” Hirschl said.
She said she’s proud to work for an organization where people feel they’ve been treated with respect and care. She said people have told her, “I felt like I was talking with a friend.”
The thing that worries Hirschl most is that people will be afraid to ask for help, or they might not know what resources are available to them.
“We’re ready, and we’re available,” Hirschl said. “We’re shouting from the rooftops, ‘Please come to us! We’re here to help you.’ We are positioned to respond to the financial needs of the community during this unique time.”
Those in need of financial assistance who want more information or application materials can call 602-230-7983 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. JN