Jewish Family Services grateful for community commitment

Many Jewish agencies extend beyond just helping the Ottawa Jewish community — and a perfect example of this is Jewish Family Services, (JFS), which offers 65 different programs and services to the people of Ottawa.

“A lot of the funding we get is from provincial or federal sources with very specific requirements,” explained JFS executive director Sarah Caspi.

That’s why the funding JFS receives from the Ottawa Jewish Community Foundation, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary, is crucial.

“We value this relationship so much,” said Caspi. “The support has grown over the years, which has allowed us to develop and maintain new programs and Jewish-specific programming.”

The first disbursement from the Foundation to JFS was in 1991 for just over $9,000. In 2021, that disbursement was more than $184,000. The Tikvah program, which helps 70 families every month with direct financial assistance, is one of the programs Foundation funding supports. The Miriam’s Well program also supports another 100 families every month with fresh produce, and more than 100 families are helped with holiday distributions.

Another program, the Thelma Steinman Seniors Support Services unit, assists 291 Jewish seniors, including 68 Holocaust survivors.

For Sandy Pollack, it’s the JFS Street Smarts program that’s near and dear to her heart — although she wasn’t fully aware of the reach of JFS when she was invited to join the Foundation Board.

“Upon joining the Board and learning more about what (Foundation) does and how they support not just Jewish organizations, but organizations with Jewish values … (values) that reverberate into the community like a ripple … That’s when I opened my fund,” said Pollack.

At first, Pollack didn’t know where her fund would go. Then, at an annual retreat for Foundation Board members, she saw a presentation by the JFS Street Smarts group.

“I was enthralled by the JFS presentation, and they said if anyone wants to help us or volunteer with us, to let them know. So I did,” said Pollack. “I went out on a Thursday night and we walked around with backpacks on. It was -15 C, and we gave out socks and mitts and granola bars and apple juice and compassion. It’s become a regular thing.”

And so, Pollack’s fund morphed into helping this JFS program, along with a few others.

“To be able to provide something to them, it really grounds you,” she said about her Thursday night experiences. “No matter how bad a day you might have, it really makes you feel fortunate, it makes me feel grateful.”

As for JFS’ Caspi, she explains that while the Ottawa Jewish community might be relatively small, the needs are wide.

“Mental health support, senior services, financial concerns — we have a commitment as an organization to support our Jewish community,” said Caspi. “Our community wants the option to go somewhere Jewish-focused for their needs. Our services are open to everyone, but we want to make sure there is a menu of options for the Jewish community.”

Pollack believes you can never give enough.

“If you give a little something it’s better than nothing,” said Pollack. “There’s no donation that’s too small. Even if you can give time, that’s great.”

For Caspi, she doesn’t want to imagine JFS without the funding it receives from Foundation — but it’s about more than just the money.

“Foundation funding gives us the ability to continue vital programming, but it also gives us a commitment from our Jewish community. Our clients, who don’t always feel part of communities now know we’re a part of it,” said Caspi.

“It’s about the relationship. Knowing that the Foundation is here to support us, even when things are turbulent. To know that we have this relationship is vital to have us keep going.”