When COVID-19 hit, mental and behavioral health service providers like Jewish Family & Children's Services faced an immediate challenge: they needed to figure out a way to shift to a pandemic-friendly service model, fast.

"We closed our offices on a Friday knowing that, on Monday, services needed to continue without interruption," said Courtney Owen, Director of Individual and Family Services at JFCS. "And we were able to do it."

By rapidly scaling up their telehealth operations—such as HIPPA-compliant Zoom rooms—JFCS was able to continue offering all of their services, such as mental health counseling and care management. But that victory was followed by the realization that many of the vulnerable people they work with, such as low income seniors, were suddenly facing immediate threats to basic needs like food and shelter.

“Help from the Jewish Federation's Emergency Fund made a big difference in meeting those basic needs," said Owen. "In general, the Federation has been really great and flexible in allowing us to make the transitions we needed to continue services.”

Our Emergency Fund is our COVID-response initiative to help our partner agencies meet community needs during the pandemic. So far, we have raised and allocated over $2 million to organizations in the Philadelphia area.

In addition to basic needs grants, our Emergency Fund also helped to fund an additional therapist, which Owen said was sorely needed, as the number of people seeking counseling has rapidly increased.

"Every population and age range is experiencing increased stress, albeit in different ways," said Owen. "Parents are having to make decisions about their kids' risk factors. Older adults aren’t able to see their families. Younger people are at an increased risk of suicide and depression."

To address this, JFCS has introduced special programming to help people deal with issues around COVID. This includes a bereavement group for those who have lost loved ones to the disease, financial empowerment groups that support those who have lost a job, and informational sessions about benefits which are streamed online.

Still, JFCS says their work isn't done.

"Even though the need has increased, we know from looking at the data that it's only going to go up," said Owen. "We know we need to be prepared to meet it as it comes."