Two Groups Combine to Combat Poverty

According to a U.S. Census Bureau report, some 1.1 million people in the United States fell into poverty last year, bringing the total to 37 million people – or about 12.7 percent of the nation's population. Alarmed by the reality behind these statistics, two Jewish organizations already working to help alleviate the problem have recognized the urgent need to take even stronger action.

The Shefa Fund and the Jewish Fund for Justice, each in existence for nearly two decades, put their heads together recently and decided that, working together, they could be far more effective.

"Now more than ever, we needed to combine our efforts," said Simon Greer, executive director and chief executive officer for the Jewish Fund for Justice. "A lot of organizations get caught up in [their own workings], but we both felt like our issues are so similar and time is so urgent that we had to put our Jewish values front and center and make the leap."

Greer's New York City-based organization issues grants and provides technical assistance to grass-roots organizations that assist the poor; it also educates Jews about poverty issues. The Shefa Fund is charged with similar work from its offices in Philadelphia and Los Angeles, although it also offers loans to the needy.

Following a formal merger – which may not take effect for several months – all three locations will continue their work where they are.

The New York City office will eventually serve as headquarters for the new organization, to be known as the Jewish Funds for Justice.

That entity is scheduled to hold its first joint board meeting the first week in November.

According to Jeffrey Dekro, former president of the Shefa Fund and now senior vice president of the new body, his group has been informally working with the Jewish Fund for Justice "for months now" on various initiatives – one of which is to aid those families and individuals affected by Hurricane Katrina.

Both groups noted that, prior to the merger, one specific dilemma centered on how to attract the younger generations – namely, those in their 30s and 40s – to their cause. Working together, the two believe they can tackle that challenge with double the ferocity.

Dekro, 54, who founded the Shefa Fund and initiated the merger with the group headed by Greer, 37, said he was excited by the prospect of a younger leader, who could offer a fresh perspective within leading Jewish philanthropies.

"Simon reflects a different sense of connection," Dekro said of Greer.

"He's aware of the sense of disconnection that many young Jews feel, and aims to create a generation that is alive and vibrant in the coming years."