In the face of a pandemic that has taken lives and livelihoods, charities and nonprofits across Los Angeles have been forced to increase their services to meet a rapidly growing demand. Accordingly, the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles (JCFLA) has taken on the task of helping many of these organizations do their work.
Philanthropic generosity and filling needs with an eye toward securing brighter futures is what the Foundation has been doing for more than 70 years. Nonetheless, the announcement of $8.5 million in COVID-19 Response grants to 22 nonprofits in Los Angeles also represents a new step for the Foundation.
“It’s really different and unprecedented from what we usually do,” said Lori Klein, the Foundation’s vice president for the Center for Designed Philanthropy. “We knew that as a foundation, we really needed to respond, and we are very fortunate to be in a position where we could be helpful in a great time of need. It feels good to be able to respond and to know we are truly making a difference.”
“People are losing their jobs and they have no money. The situation is dire,” added Howard Rosenman, co-founder of Project Angel Food, which delivers meals to men, women and children affected by life-threatening illnesses. “Especially older and marginalized populations, and populations who have underlying illnesses.”
In the first phase of the Foundation’s two-phase plan, 22 local nonprofits will receive $2.5 million. The funds will be earmarked for the nonprofits’ already established relief efforts and will go toward helping people struggling with financial crises, housing instability, health issues and food insecurity. The organizations are located across the city and serve a wide range of individuals, from infants to seniors, Jewish and non-sectarian.
The nonprofits are Children’s Institute; Great Public Schools NOW; One Family LA; Homeboy Industries; Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles; Jewish Free Loan Association; JVS SoCal; Los Angeles Regional Food Bank; Project Angel Food; Swipe Out Hunger; Touch of Kindness; Chai Lifeline; Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters Los Angeles; Los Angeles Jewish Home for the Aging; Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital; Sharsheret; Venice Family Clinic; Bet Tzedek; Downtown Women’s Center; LA Family Housing; Los Angeles LGBT Center; and the National Council for Jewish Women Los Angeles.
In addition, a $1 million grant to the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles is designed to help the Federation assist nonprofits assisting vulnerable Jewish populations in Los Angeles and Israel.
“We knew that as a foundation, we really needed to respond and we are very fortunate to be in a position where we could be helpful in a great time of need. It feels good to be able to respond and to know we are truly making a difference.” — Lori Klein
Foundation leaders settled on this group of nonprofits after holding discussions with representatives from more than 100 organizations. In mid-March, following the citywide shutdown, the Foundation team went into research mode. According to Klein, the question was not if the Foundation would provide assistance, but what form that assistance would take.
“We reached out to our grantees and folks in the community to check in on how they were doing and see how could we be helpful, and in the process, also learn from them what their needs were,” she said. “We worked tirelessly to really make sure we had our pulse on what was going on in the community. In addition to those conversations, we participated in conversations and webinars with other funders. What we were hearing both in terms of there being an immediate need and a long-term need for sustainability is what other professionals and funders in the community were hearing as well.”
Eli Veitzer, president and CEO of Jewish Family Services Los Angeles (JFSLA), remembers those discussions and recalls being impressed by the Foundation’s strategic approach to responding to the pandemic. Since March, JFS has had a surge in calls for services involving senior nutrition and home-delivered meals. The pandemic forced the organization to shut down its SOVA West location, and JFSLA has brought in additional social-work staff to help meet the need. The Foundation’s $100,000 COVID-19 Response grant came at an opportune time.
“We have had ongoing discussions with the Foundation about the need in the community and how we’re responding,” Veitzer said. “I really was not expecting this level of support.”
For several of the organizations, the COVID-19 Response grant was the first the nonprofit had ever received from the Foundation. One of the first-time Foundation awardees — Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital (MLKJCH) — will use a portion of its $100,000 grant toward the ongoing development and upkeep of “Ask Mia,” the “chatbot” diagnostic software application MLKJCH launched when the pandemic hit. In the medically underserved area of South Los Angeles, where MLKJCH is located, much of the population does not have immediate access to primary care. “Ask Mia” is designed to help bridge that gap, said Lisa Baxter, the hospital’s director of major gifts.
“This will help us further engage our patients and improve their health,” she said. “Especially where our hospital is located, health care is an act of social justice. So, having partners like the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles investing in our work and investing in South L.A., they’re really helping us to lend to that fight for equity. This is all about lack of access to quality health care and here is Martin Luther King providing that.”
For the second phase of the COVID-19 Response grants, which will take place later in the year, Klein said the Foundation will focus on issues of sustainability. Where the first phase did not require an application from the awardee, the second phase will have an application process and will be by invitation only.
“We really are going to be looking at organizations that have pivoted their work to COIVD-19 related programming and will likely continue to service the community in the future,” Klein said, “but their budgets have been impacted by COVID-19, and we’re going to explore what their needs are going forward and how we could be helpful.”