August 2020FEATURE

There When You Need Them


By Lisa McGuigan

A wise person once said, “You never know you need a Federation until you need a Federation.” Today, and in the face of what has been a brutal and unrelenting pandemic, our community needs our Federation.

For more than 80 years, Jewish Federation has been caring for Jews in need, responding during times of crisis, and building community and connection in San Diego, Israel, and all over the world.

In early March, weeks before our entire lives went virtual, Federation was preparing.

“We completely pivoted our work to be responsive during the crisis,” Federation’s chief planning and strategy officer, Darren Schwartz said. “This is what we do. We respond. We mobilize. We don’t just look out for individuals. We also support our frontline organizations during these difficult times. We take ‘caring for Jews in need everywhere’ seriously,” said Schwartz.

And respond, they did. In partnership with the San Diego Jewish Community Foundation and Leichtag Foundation, the San Diego Jewish Community COVID-19 Emergency Fund was established to respond to the most immediate needs of our Jewish community. Collectively, the effort raised more than $2.2 million, and the Fund is providing loans to address emergency needs, offer payroll assistance, and provide support for PPE, sanitization, and so much more.

“The situation is fluid and constantly changing. We expect the needs to change, and we want to be prepared for that,” Schwartz said.

In addition to raising critical funds, Federation wanted to find a way to reach potentially vulnerable and isolated seniors. “Very early on, we established a wellness phone bank to check in on over 2,600 seniors,” Federation’s Donor Engagement Manager, Molly Okun, shared. “Our goal was to ensure they were comfortable in their homes and had access to food, medication, or simply the comfort of a friendly voice.”

“This was new territory for us,” Schwartz added. “We had no idea if we could get enough volunteers to be a part of this program, but to our pleasant surprise, over 125 community members stepped up to make this happen. Many are still making regular calls to the seniors today.”

Today, volunteers and Federation staff provide regular outreach and even enlisted the help of IT professional, Eric Koster, to support seniors with technology to ensure they have the tools needed to interact in our new virtual world.

“I connect with eight seniors weekly,” volunteer Julie Phillips, shared. “They are basically fine, but thoroughly isolated and alone (except for two). I have become welcome company, and we enjoy lengthy conversations about their past, families, cooking, medical appointments, and their fears. I am thankful that my husband was initially on the receiving end of a Federation ‘check-in’ call as it exposed me to this incredible effort and gave me an opportunity to give back.”

As we look ahead, much is still unknown. Balancing optimism and precaution has become a necessary pastime, and every day presents new variables and feelings that must be managed and juggled. Still, during this turbulent time, we are constantly reminded that we are fortunate to be a part of our caring, connected, and generous community — and that means something. It means a lot.

“We will come out of this,” Schwartz said, “and we will be stronger because of it.”

For more information on the Jewish Federation of San Diego County or to donate, visit


COVID-19 and the Jewish Elderly

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