No Questions Asked

by Josh Kerr | Oct 15, 2020
When COVID-19 hit, the Jewish Foundation sent out unsolicited
cheques to help organizations across the province stay afloat

In early April, Al Benarroch, Jewish Child and Family Services' (JCFS) Executive Director, received something unexpected in the mail. It was a cheque, made out to JCFS for $12,000 – money that it could spend in whatever way it wanted. The cash couldn't have come at a better time – COVID-19 had just shut the city down, sending non-profit organizations across Winnipeg into varying degrees of panic. "It was a big relief," says Benarroch. "At that point, we didn't know what was coming down the pike." 

Benarroch wasn't the only one who received money unsolicited – 28 other Jewish organizations, including synagogues, camps and schools, and four general community organizations all received cheques in April, too. The surprise gifts were part of the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba's COVID-19 relief funding, which saw the organization dispense $300,000 that month for recipients to put toward operational expenses. 

Some of the money JCFS received went to buying computers for staff so that they could help seniors get the support they needed virtually in place of the in-person visits they are used to. "Many seniors didn't know who was going to look after them," says Benarroch. "We bought 10 new laptops, money which we took out of general operating revenue."

By the end of the year, the Jewish Foundation will have given out more than $700,000 over three Phases to its community partners, which includes the Gray Academy of Jewish Education, Winnipeg Jewish Theatre, Gwen Secter Creative Living Centre and many others. The initial cheques, which were part of Phase one, were delivered with no strings attached and no questions asked. "We wanted to get something out immediately," says John Diamond, the Foundation's CEO. "We wanted to make sure no one was getting evicted because they couldn't pay their rent and that programs and staff could still be supported." 

In June, another $210,500 was given to 11 organizations. For this round, organizations had to apply for a grant and be more specific as to how they would use the funds. Still, the money was earmarked for COVID-19 related help, including paying for staff and other operational expenses. In September, organizations have again submitted applications for the third phase of granting with asks totalling $210,000. The grants committee was still reviewing applications at the time of writing. 

Usually, Foundation grants aren't for operational expenses, but rather, specific projects or programs. But when COVID-19 hit, the Foundation's Board and staff quickly decided to use the 15% of the funds the Foundation controls directly – the other 85% is directed by donors themselves – to keep Manitoba's Jewish community afloat. "We identified pretty quickly that with the world shutting down, non-profit and charitable organizations were going to suffer," says Foundation CEO John Diamond. (An additional $30,000 in COVID-19 relief funds were given to five charities from the JFM's Women's Endowment Fund.)

The Foundation helped in other ways, too. For instance, it gave additional funds to a three-month pilot project between JCFS and Gwen Secter Creative Living Centre, where drivers were hired to transport seniors to and from appointments. Rather than calling a taxicab company, where they may have been at risk for contracting the coronavirus, they could reach a trusted driver through JCFS.

While the remainder of this year will see many organizations receive Phase 3 funding as well as the yearly proceeds of their organizational endowments, if the pandemic continues to wreak havoc on the non-profit and charitable sectors, it is possible that there will be a need for more COVID-19 relief funding in 2021, says Diamond. 

That's welcome news for Benarroch, who takes comfort in knowing that the Jewish Foundation is there to support them. "Kudos to the Foundation for being proactive," he says about the initial cheques. "As an Executive Director, it was a relief not to have to ask for it – that gave me a lot of confidence that the community was approaching the pandemic in a healthy way."