One of the most important aspects of charitable assistance is the need to protect the confidentiality of recipients. People’s dignity should be at the center of any provided service; if a family is struggling — whether financially or in other ways — their right to privacy must be respected. When Jewish Family Service (JFS) recently received a grant that made recipient anonymity more difficult, their staff worked hard to create a resolution that was a success for everyone involved.
CEO Liz Vogel and her staff applied for and received a grant from the State of Ohio Governor’s Office of Faith-Based & Community Initiatives (GOFBCI), which provides funding that supports services for families in Ohio whose income meets the requirements for TANF — an acronym for “Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.” In addition, a grant was obtained from the Phillip Smith Foundation to provide support for children in need. “We combined this funding with the state grant to serve even more children” said Kean.
A few factors combined to create unforeseen challenges in the use of the state grant. First, prior to applying for the grant, Vogel had gathered input from community rabbis to determine the most pressing need for families in their congregations, and — more than anything else — what she heard was that the kids in these families needed clothing and shoes. Second, while the grant funds could be used to distribute clothing, specific stipulations written into the grant made apportioning these funds far more difficult.
“At first, we thought that families could do all their shopping online,” said Linda Kean, Vice President of Operations and Youth & Family Programs. “The families would submit their order through JFS, and we’d have the clothes and shoes shipped directly to them. That would have allowed for optimal confidentiality and privacy.” But when Kean explored the online option with a number of vendors, none would allow them to use their nonprofit tax-exempt status, which meant hundreds if not thousands of grant dollars would be spent on taxes instead of families.
While this news was sinking in, a reading of the grant’s fine print revealed some highly restrictive details. “The grant didn’t allow for us to give the money directly to the families,” Kean said. “So ultimately, we decided to hold some private shopping events at five different area businesses. These stores opened their doors — just for us — on Sunday mornings and evenings!” she emphasized. “Before their normal hours of operation, or after. They were happy and willing to work with us on these events and to help the community on future events such as food drives for our food pantry. They got everything approved for the private shopping events, and they brought in their teams expressly for this purpose. Honestly, they couldn’t have been more helpful.”
Kean also noted how important it was to help local families with the purchase of shoes for their children. “You can hand down clothes, sure. But people need new shoes,” she asserted. “Quality shoes — that fit well — can be really important to a person’s health. So it warms my heart to think we could do that for them.”
Kean’s appreciation extended beyond these generous businesses to her own staff. “I want to give a shout out to the many staff members who volunteered to give up time from their weekends to work the events,” she said. “They are an amazing, caring group of individuals who are dedicated to helping people in our community.”
When asked how families had first been made aware of the grant opportunity, Kean explained that the applications had been distributed in a variety of ways. “We announced the grant award and emailed the forms to area rabbis and other Jewish community leaders, and we printed and mailed hard copies to families in the community we knew would appreciate being included; and we included them in the pick-ups and deliveries we made to families who use our Barbash Family Vital Support Center or our Heldman Family Food Pantry, as well as our satellite pantries in the Jewish community,” she said. “And I’m happy to say, we did not turn down anyone who applied.”
While planning the logistics for these live shopping events, staff members continued to research online options. “Some community families wanted access to more modest clothing,” Kean observed. “And one of these vendors — Shirt Stop — eventually came through for us. We set up online events for a couple evenings in March and April. It’s worked out quite well.”
In the end, JFS was able to distribute three hundred dollars of clothing and shoes per child. For some families, that equated to over two thousand dollars of assistance. In all, a hundred forty-five kids (aged eighteen or younger) and thirty-six families were able to get the help they needed. “These events truly helped people in need,” Kean concluded. “Many of these families have not really had an opportunity to buy new clothing or new shoes for their children — either in a long while or maybe ever. That’s something most of us take for granted; we don't think about how tight the budgets of other families might be, and it's just wonderful they were able to get this help, in a way that respected their privacy and had a real