Sometimes, extraordinary ideas are triggered by ordinary events. The launch of Project Warmth began with Madlyn Abramson lovingly chastising her grandson about going out in the cold without a coat. "My husband, Leonard, overheard my conversation and suggested that we should help our fellow Jews, who, because of the poor economic climate, cannot afford winter clothing for themselves or their loved ones," she said. "We decided to help create a program that brings both physical and emotional sustenance to those who need it most."
The couple brainstormed about the best way to reach out to those in need that respects their privacy and dignity. They knew that Federation placed a high priority on services for older adults and families at risk and strategized with Federation President Leonard Barrack. Out of this meeting came the concept of a voucher program, supported by the Leonard and Madlyn Abramson Family Foundation, where those who qualified could receive a gift certificate redeemable for new winter apparel. Burlington Coat Factory signed on as an exclusive retailer for this project and will honor these vouchers at many locations throughout the Delaware Valley.
"Federation applauds and appreciates the generosity and kindness of the Leonard and Madlyn Abramson Family Foundation," said Barrack. "We are thrilled to be able, through the work of our community partners, to distribute warm clothing to those in need in our community."
Coat Factory Involved
Burlington Coat Factory is enthusiastic about its involvement in Project Warmth. "We're excited to be able to work with the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia in its distribution of winter apparel to those in the community who otherwise may not be able to afford it. We've taken all the necessary steps to make sure that the process works seamlessly and assists members of the community in a dignified manner," said Garry Graham, marketing senior vice president.
Jack Dembow, executive vice president of Jewish Family and Children's Service, expressed confidence that the program is well-timed and will be widely utilized. "Until recently, we've generally focused on providing supportive services to low-income individuals and families," he said, predicting that "the recent economic downturn will undoubtedly force even moderate- to middle-income individuals and families to rework their budgets and make difficult decisions about what they can afford to purchase."
No More Difficult Decisions
Dembow emphasized that Project Warmth enables JFCS "to offer yet another resource to our low-income clients whose budgets would never allow them the luxury of a new, warm winter coat.
"These are the same people who must constantly choose between food, rent, utilities, medications and other necessities. The concept of purchasing a new winter coat would have been out of the question. Now it can become a reality."
Amy Krulik, executive director of the Jewish Relief Agency, reports that her agency has seen a dramatic increase in requests for services since last spring from an average of 15-25 per month to 30-60 per month or even more," she said, explaining that "Over 90 percent of our families live below the poverty level, so just staying on top of regular bills is a daily struggle. Buying a new winter coat is a luxury that most cannot afford. This project will allow our recipient families to stay warm this winter and use the money saved on not having to purchase a coat to pay for another vital service like heat or rent."
Ginene Raechel Hammer, director of Senior Services for the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Philadelphia, stated her confidence that Project Warmth will provide her clients with hope … a commodity in short supply during economically trying times. She explained that "Many of our clients are elderly and have fixed incomes."
The Need Keeps Growing
"As the cost of food, medications and other basic supplies have increased dramatically, seniors cut back on things that they just simply can't afford, like clothing and heating their homes. The agency has seen an overall rise in the number of people utilizing such senior center programs as hot meals and home supports."
Hammer appreciates the generosity of the Abramsons in supporting this project. "Keeping a vulnerable person warm during the winter months, when they need help the most, is a sign of true kindness and caring. It is truly the mark of a tzadek, a righteous person," said Hammer. "We appreciate the Jewish Federation's partnership and their ongoing support for the neediest and most vulnerable members of our society."
Like Hammer, Eric Naftulin, executive director of Federation Housing, Inc., believes that "Project Warmth could not have come at a better time." The vast majority of the nearly 1,500 seniors served by the agency are living at or below the poverty level. Naftulin supposes that "they are often faced with making tough choices about whether or not to purchase things, like much needed medications and other household essentials, over purchasing personal effects, such as clothing."
Naftulin maintains that the program will benefit not only Federation Housing residents but their immediate families. He explains that "Residents' loved ones, who may have been able to assist with the purchase of items like clothing, are now simply unable to help this year because they too are facing economic challenges due to job eliminations, and losses in investments and retirement savings." Naftulin is grateful to all involved in Project Warmth for designing a vehicle that allows Jewish senior residents to maintain some dignity and their sense of pride and independence.
Rising to the Challenge
"I am humbled by the fact that when the Jewish community senses a need such as this, even during the most challenging economic times in recent memory, we rise to the challenge and address the problem 'head on' with meaningful programs such as these," he commented.
Project Warmth is open to Jewish residents of Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery or Philadelphia counties, who meet household income guidelines. To obtain an application, call the Jewish Family and Children's Service Client Intake and Registration Department at 866-JFCS-NOW (532-7669).
Vouchers to Be Distributed
Eligible adults will receive non-transferable vouchers for the purchase of winter apparel valued at up to $70. Children's vouchers may be redeemed for winter apparel valued at up to $45. Children under the age of 18 must be accompanied by an adult. Original vouchers must be presented, with valid photo identification to cashiers at the following Burlington Coat Factory locations:
· 1563 Franklin Mills Circle, Philadelphia
· 9167 Roosevelt Boulevard, Philadelphia
· 323 Old York Road, Jenkintown
· 2385 Cheltenham Avenue, Philadelphia
· Baltimore Park and Oak Lane, Clifton Heights
· 700 East Hunting Park Plaza, Philadelphia
· 1001 Market Street, Philadelphia
The Abramsons are pleased that Project Warmth is set to launch just days before the commemoration of Thanksgiving, a traditional time for people to celebrate their blessings and share their bounty with those less fortunate.
"As the cold months of winter approach, we hope that our low-income seniors and families feel just a little more comfortable and be able to focus their already stretched resources on other more pressing family matters," said Madlyn Abramson.