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March 17, 2020 4:18 pm

‘Israeli Playbook’ Has Helped Us Deal With Coronavirus Crisis, Says Head of New York Jewish Council on Poverty

avatar by Ben Cohen

The Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty in New York is boosting food distribution amid the coronavirus crisis. Photo: Met Council.

The head of the main Jewish welfare institution serving poor and low-income residents in the New York area said on Tuesday that his organization had so far managed to stay “ahead of the curve” of the novel coronavirus threat, though he warned that graver challenges lay ahead.

“We are in a reasonably good place, because we took this seriously as soon as the first coronavirus case was registered in New York,” David Greenfield — chief executive of the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty — told The Algemeiner.

Founded in 1972 in response to growing poverty among Jews in the New York area, the Metropolitan Council describes itself as an “organization founded on Jewish values…serv[ing] everyone with dignity and empathy, regardless of race, ethnicity or religion.”

Dealing with an unprecedented public health threat like COVID-19 has fundamentally transformed the manner in which the Council serves the 225,000 clients who depend on its programs, Greenfield explained.

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“Essentially, we’ve copied the Israeli playbook,” Greenfield said, as he praised what he called the Israeli government’s “aggressive” approach from the first hours of the crisis. “We’ve held an emergency meeting every single day, we’ve given free sick days to our staff to keep them healthy, we’ve quarantined people who’ve been traveling, and all that has helped us stay ahead of the curve.”

Services provided by the Council range from food provision to domestic violence counseling, with each of its nine departments facing a distinct set of challenges, Greenfield said.

“We operate the largest free kosher-for-Passover food distribution service,” Greenfield said, in a nod to the major Jewish holiday that begins three weeks from now. Already, he continued, there had been more than 100 distributions of Passover food to over 180,000 recipients.

Planning for the Passover holiday has coincided with increased day-to-day demand for food.

“We’ve increased our food ordering and warehouse capacity so that we can respond to short-term needs,” Greenfield said.

Currently, about 1,000 food packages are being distributed by the Council every week, with the individuals who deliver the food maintaining a safe distance from those receiving it.

Said Greenfield: “39 percent of our clients are seniors, and approximately another 10 percent  have an underlying medical condition, so we’re doing this for their own protection and that of our staff.”

Seniors needing repairs at their homes are also receiving assistance despite the coronavirus crisis, Greenfield said.

“We’re providing emergency repairs for seniors, and when we show up, we ask them to stay in a separate room for the duration of the work, so we’re adapting to the best of our abilities,” he explained.

The Council’s program for victims of domestic violence — with 800 clients, the largest program of its kind in the Jewish community — is continuing its work online, as battered spouses are compelled to spend even more time with their abusers because of the coronavirus restrictions.

“We are providing all these services online and by telephone now,” Greenfield said. “We’ve got licensed therapists and social workers dealing with these cases, and if they need food or other assistance, we’re providing that as well.”

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