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Jewish Community Federation of Richmond

Responding to the COVID-19 Pandemic

By Daniel Staffenberg

CEO, Jewish Community Federation of Richmond

Every member of our community has felt the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

In the face of an unprecedented set of challenges, Federation rapidly convened and mobilized leaders, organizations, and resources throughout Greater Richmond, Petersburg, Charlottesville, and Fredericksburg to identify and address the most critical issues for our community. By bringing together voices from across the region, Federation continues to lead our community in collaborative discussion, strategic thinking, information sharing and thoughtful decision making.

Together with generous and kindhearted community leaders, and our community partners, Federation raised and allocated critical resources, cared and supported the vulnerable, and bolstered our vital institutions so they could continue to meet critical and needed community needs.

Quick and Efficient Response

When schools, offices, and public spaces began closing due to COVID-19, Federation took immediate and decisive action. In partnership with generous donors, leaders and our partners, Federation worked swiftly to address our community’s most immediate and urgent concerns, while remaining focused on sustaining the foundations of vibrant Jewish life for the future.

February 2020 – Federation begins monitoring and sharing information about COVID 19.

March 11, 2020 – Beth Sholom, RTA, Weinstein JCC are first to close their spaces with others following suit. Federation and partners at Secure Community Network begin sharing regular updates and resources for agencies and synagogues.

March 12, 2020 – Federation begins hosting daily COVID update calls for community leadership including members of synagogues and agencies throughout Greater Richmond, Charlottesville, Petersburg and Fredericksburg. Calls include Dr. Danny Avula, Virginia Department of Health, Secure Community Network and national resources. Calls continue on a weekly basis through September 2020.

“The calls were vital to accelerating and assisting our response to COVID. Often, we would hear critical information well in advance of the news or other organizations. They were a wonderful resource.” Wendy Kreuter, JFS Richmond CEO

March 16, 2020 – Federation launches COVID Community Resource Website providing up-to- date information on agency and synagogue closures, resources and virtual connections.

March 20, 2020 – Federation launches COVID Emergency Response campaign raising $183,000 in just over 7 days. Federation, building on the strength of our existing Impact and Planning operation launched a community needs assessment process.

Early grants provided 20 IPADS to Beth Sholom and JFS. The iPads allowed Beth Sholom families to continue visitations safely and virtually. Additionally, the iPads provided critical opportunities for enrichment, stimulation and entertainment to the seniors. JFS utilized the iPads to allow for virtual therapy and remote check in on homebound and frail elderly.

Additionally, Federation collected and distributed thousands of pounds of food, medical and basic household supplies to Beth Sholom Woods low-income housing and other members of the community experiencing economic hardship.

March 17, 2020 – JFS Richmond and Federation partner to personally call and connect with over 300 elderly members of our community, providing check ins, resources and connection to the Richmond Jewish Care Line.

April 2020 – Federation assists local Jewish organizations in securing Federal Paycheck Protection Program loans, infusing our community with a total of $3.6 million at a critical time.

April 2020 – Federation Emergency Fund Allocations begin with first infusion of over $100,000 in grants to agencies and synagogues. Additional funding provided to our Overseas partners to assist with COVID response in Zaporozhe, Ukraine and Hadera, Israel. Throughout process entire $183,332 is distributed. Federation also accelerates allocations to agencies infusing critical cash at a critical time.

April 2020- Sept. 2021 – Federation kept our community connected during crisis. Federation held hundreds of hours of virtual programming connecting Richmond to the Jewish world. Through our Community Calendar and communications thousands of hours of partner programming was also shared, showcasing Jewish experiences and virtual opportunities throughout Richmond.

January 2021 – In partnership with Henrico County and Richmond Health Department Federation launches Jewish Volunteer Center connecting our community to opportunities throughout the region. Over the next month Jewish volunteers assist in making vaccine appointments for thousands of elderly in our region.

March 2021 – Federation mobilizes our network to secure over 350 vaccine appointments in a period of 4 hours. Among those whose lives we improved are Holocaust Survivors, home bound and isolated elderly, Jews, Catholics, and Muslims.  We acted immediately because we are there every day.

A huge THANK YOU for making it possible for me to get my COVID 19 vaccination today!  My husband is 76 and has lung cancer, so I have been very anxious to be inoculated.  We are thrilled.  I have no idea how you organized this so quickly.  They should put you in charge of the distribution program for the state!” Susan 

“THANK YOU! THANK YOU so very much for getting us appointments!  My parents and I all received vaccines this morning and they say a big thank you as well!  I can’t say it enough…thank you again!!!!” Megan Ferenczy

May 2021 – Federation completes a record-breaking Fundraising Drive, resulting in over $3.4 million raised. This includes over $240,000 in additional COVID specific funding to our agencies and the Richmond Jewish Care Line run by our partners at JFS Richmond. We also provided over $100,000 in scholarship funding for Camp, Overnight Camp, RTA and Preschools.

“Having this financial aid helped me keep my housing for at least a couple more months as I convalesced from medical issues. I am so grateful to my community for helping me.”

Leading through the crisis

Curated and Communicated Critical Accurate Covid Resources: Federation compiled critical resources on our website, and held numerous Webinars for both nonprofits and individuals, including resources for healthcare professionals, mental health support, support for survivors of domestic violence, and ways to stay connected.

Federation and JFS Richmond held drop-in Mental Health workshops allowing individuals and members of the community an opportunity to connect, receive help and create community while safe.

Dignified Burial – Every year Federation supports Indigent Burial ensuring that every Jew, regardless of financial means or religious affiliation, receives a dignified, traditional funeral and burial. During COVID indigent burial needs increased and Federation ensured no one was turned away.

Passover 2020 – Recognizing that Passover was a time of connection, Federation worked with Virginia Public Media (VPM) to produce a Seder Showcase, including Rabbi’s, members of the community and special guests to help everyone celebrate the Holiday. Thousands of people have viewed the broadcast on social media, live and on YouTube.

Protecting our community – Federations Regional Security program provided hundreds of hours of Webinars, resources and consultations on reopening, personal and organizational safety and connected numerous agencies to PPE.

Advocacy – From the start of the crisis and continuing to this day, Federation’s Community relations team has been advocating on behalf of network agencies on the federal, state, and city level. We’ve helped secure food for vulnerable populations and supplies for our nonprofit partners. We also helped our partners secure over $5 million in funding from the federal Paycheck Protection Program, which provided forgivable loans to cover payroll and overhead expenses.

What’s Next?

We’re in this for the long term — lifting up our region, our community locally and globally, and our neighbors. Because we know that while vaccines will curb the pandemic, recovering from the financial and emotional toll of this crisis may take years. While our focus is on feeding the hungry, helping those struggling financially, and supporting those dealing with grief, anxiety, and other mental health issues. We’re harnessing the moment to reimagine Jewish life, with new and innovative ways to engage, online and off, so we can come back better than before. This year has given us new clarity about what matters.

In the last year, we’ve emerged a stronger, more resilient, more connected Jewish community.

In 2022, we know that life will get better, and we will need to build on the success and challenge of COVID to build Jewish Richmond even stronger. It will take the same ingenuity, creativity, and resilience and Federation is poised to lead the way. Thank you for being here for so much good!


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