By Angelica Haggert
According to Statistics Canada, 44 per cent of households have suffered some kind of financial loss due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
That’s why, at the start of the worldwide pandemic, the Jewish Federation of Ottawa launched the Emergency Campaign for Community Resilience to protect the community and to help ensure Jewish organizations had everything they needed, ranging from personal protective equipment to extra staff to subsidies for continued access to Jewish life. The goal was three-fold: to ensure those who were now most vulnerable were supported, while regular annual funding was maintained, along with special funding for projects that help fuel the Jewish Superhighway, such as Microgrants.
“At the end of the day, we want to come out with a strong Jewish community,” said Sarah Beutel, Federation’s Vice President of Community Building.
“When COVID happened, the emergency funds were raised just for emergency purposes — if a day school needed extra teachers, if Hillel Lodge had an outbreak, things like that.”
Putting emergency funding in place was no small feat, but it has meant that Federation can support organizations quickly.
“We’ve really streamlined the process,” said Kevin Barwin, Chair of the Grants and Evaluations Committee and a member of Federation’s Board of Directors. “The application goes through a core review team, so when Hillel [Lodge] needs money NOW, we can make that happen and truly save lives.”
Barwin said the requests for funding have been vastly different from each other. Hillel Lodge has requested help to pay for PPE and some of the schools require IT support. Some of the needs, like those, could be predicted and planned for, while others like a better dishwasher to ensure dishes were sanitized for Tamir clients, was not previously considered. Barwin also celebrated the trust and close working relationships with the community organizations, which have been very open in communicating their needs.
While creating a process for emergency funding, the Federation team said they were also pleased to continue funding special initiatives that help to engage people in Jewish life, explaining that despite the pandemic, Federation did not want to compromise the success of the Jewish Superhighway.
For example, the Microgrants program continues to be a great success. Federation funds up to $2,500 for new and creative initiatives, like events, activities and programs that connect people or meet a unique need in the Jewish community. Find out how to apply here.
According to Beutel, recent applications have even included financing to dress up a pickup truck like a parade float for Purim.
“Chanukah was interesting — there was a movie night in a synagogue parking lot, as well as a community-wide menorah contest,” said Beutel, stressing the variety of creative projects undertaken by the community, and funded through Microgrants.
Hen Tomer, an organizer with the group Israeli Women in Ottawa, has received multiple microgrants from Federation, both before and during the pandemic, including a lady’s night for International Women’s Day last March and a virtual paint night.
“The Israeli community is not necessarily connected to the Jewish community,” said Tomer. “We kind of mixed them both together and people had a chance to meet new people and connect. We established a lot of new connections. We’re all Jewish, we’re all part of the bigger community.”
Without the grants, Tomer said the events wouldn’t have been possible and the Israeli women in the group wouldn’t feel as connected to each other or to the community.
“Looking at the Israeli community — we’re all new here. It’s difficult to connect to the more established Jewish community. It’s important for our group to to exist so we can connect them. We want to give people the sense of belonging.”
All this is in addition to the regularly allocated funding that Federation gives out, to what Barwin referred to as the “Big Six.” Those organizations receive annual funding and Federation’s contributions go directly to the bottom line of their budgets.
When it comes to this kind of funding and the smaller program-based funding, the question the Grants Committee asks themselves is “Where do we want to see the community go and how do these agencies serve this need?” said Barwin.
“We’re a small, very dedicated team of volunteers but it’s a really interesting committee to be on because you get to really understand what’s going on in the community.”
And strengthening the community is what Federation’s different funding streams are all about.
Read the most recent Report from the Field from Tamir to see how some emergency funding is being used.
Angelica Haggert is the Digital Communications Specialist for the Jewish Federation of Ottawa.