David, a Midwood resident, recalled, “I was constantly dreading checking my bank account, not to mention the next bill.” He lied awake most nights, worried about how he would manage to pay for groceries or the rent due the next week. As a father of five young children, David felt the constant pressure of his responsibilities. Despite having many friends in the community, he felt he could no longer ask for their help. Unexpected medical expenses had eaten up his reserves, his clients were overdue on payments, and with every sunrise, he worried how he could keep his family safe and afloat.
David was reluctant to seek help. But as his financial situation became more dire, he finally went to the Flatbush Community Fund website and filled out the simple online form. Initially, he was uncomfortable, but the professional and friendly staff at the Fund quickly put him at ease. They reassured him that many hard-working individuals in the community sought assistance to get them through a rough patch.
“The relief I felt was indescribable,” David said. “Suddenly, I wasn’t just carrying the burden alone anymore. Baruch Hashem, with their help, my children continued to enjoy their meals, unaware of the financial tightrope we were walking. My credit card payments were no longer declined, and I could breathe again, knowing my family was taken care of.”
This support was more than just financial. It was a lifeline that allowed David to return to being the father, husband, and businessman he strived to be. He could now focus on reviving his business and providing for his family without the crippling fear of the next bill or unexpected expenses. The Flatbush Community Fund gave him the stability and peace of mind needed to sustain his family until his business improved.
This transformation is a testament to the profound impact of the Flatbush Community Fund since its inception five years ago. Through their comprehensive support and understanding, they have alleviated financial burdens and restored hope and dignity to many, enabling them to thrive once more in their roles within the family and community.
Charting the Course of Kindness
It all began in July 2018 with a simple vision: to fill the gaps in the budgets of families within the Flatbush Orthodox Jewish community struggling to afford essentials. “When we started out, I was the only employee, doing everything from buying stamps to fundraising. Now, baruch Hashem, we’ve grown,” said Executive Director Yitzy Weinberg.
Their dedicated team of five employees works to fulfill their mission of “helping everyone who needs help.” Serving a diverse Jewish population, the fund directs approximately thirty percent of its services towards the Sephardic community, Weinberg said, acknowledging and addressing the community’s unique needs.
“We’ve helped over 2,000 families since we’ve started, for various different needs: Pesach, grocery accounts, tutoring assistance, interest-free loans, financial mentoring, emergency assistance, rent, mortgage, and utility payments,” Weinberg said. Clearly, as the community has grown, so has their trust and reliance on FCF.
The Challenge of the Pandemic
As FCF’s role within the community solidified, the Covid-19 pandemic necessitated an expansion of their services. The crisis exacerbated so many families’ existing financial struggles and introduced new ones, driving the organization to broaden its scope of aid.
“It was such a sudden shock to the system. A lot of people who were managing just fine until then, were all of a sudden thrown into this terrible situation and needed to reach out,” Weinberg said.
“The pandemic brought unforeseen challenges, but also a change in perspective. It normalized the fact that people needed help. We were in the right place at the right time to ramp up and help those thrown into turmoil by the pandemic.” Yet, the challenges continue, with the cost of living and inflation further exacerbating the community’s needs.
Understanding the Community’s Diverse Needs
Miri Taylor, FCF’s Director of Administration, commented, “Take a middle-class family that is paying five yeshiva tuitions, just made a wedding, has two car leases, and is paying for summer camp – we are not talking about splashing out on lavish vacations, we are talking about just having the minimum to get by. They are just not cutting it without help.”
Taylor’s insight into the complex layers of concern weighing on the community members underscores the critical nature of FCF’s role. FCF is not just about providing financial aid. It is about understanding and responding to the myriad stresses that affect daily life. With this deep comprehension of the community’s many needs, FCF strives to ensure that no one is left to navigate these challenges alone.
The organization aims to provide assistance to anyone who reaches out for help. This guiding principle is echoed in the words of both Weinberg and Taylor, who make it clear that turning someone away is a last resort. “If there is something that totally doesn’t fit in a category that we are able to help with, we work hard to connect them with other resources, and we follow up. We won’t just give them a phone number. We work to make sure whatever can be done gets done,” said Taylor.
Providing Assistance While Preserving Dignity
In addition to ensuring that everyone who reaches out gets some kind of support, FCF especially made sure that the application process is respectful and dignified.
This approach ensures that the aid is not only appropriate and well-directed, but also makes certain that help is given with the utmost respect for applicants’ privacy and dignity. “We try not to be too onerous. We’re not asking for tax returns,” Weinberg explained.
Taylor expanded on this core principle with a powerful explanation of what FCF represents to the community. “When people ask me what we do, I tell them that we save people’s dignity.” She described a scenario where residents of Flatbush, instead of having to ask a neighbor for help and possibly facing embarrassment, can turn to FCF. “So nobody needs to be ashamed or embarrassed about their situation. This confidentiality and respect transform the act of receiving aid into a process marked by dignity and communal support.”
FCF’s broad range of services are tailored to meet the varying needs of the Flatbush community. These services not only alleviate immediate financial pressures, but also empower individuals and families to overcome their challenges with dignity and hope.
FCF provides grocery accounts to help families afford essential food items. With $100-$500 per household quarterly, these accounts ensure that no one in the community has to compromise on basic necessities.
Celebrations are an integral part of life too, and FCF ensures that financial constraints do not diminish the joy of these occasions. When subsidizing weddings or providing tefillin for Bar Mitzvahs, FCF’s “Simcha Assistance” helps families celebrate life’s milestones with full hearts and peace of mind.
Interest-free loans and utility payment assistance help people facing unexpected financial emergencies or who are struggling to keep up with utility bills. These loans enable recipients to stay afloat, so that temporary setbacks do not lead to lasting hardships.
Beyond immediate financial aid, FCF invests in the long-term wellbeing of the community through financial mentoring and tutoring services. By equipping individuals with financial management skills and supporting students’ educational journeys, FCF fosters a community of self-reliance and ongoing growth.
FCF’s Food Pantry ensures that families have access to nutritious food, while their referral services connect individuals to additional support, including mental health resources, clothing, and home repairs. These services collectively ensure that every aspect of community members’ well-being is cared for.
As FCF continues to fortify the community through these diverse services, they not only address the immediate needs of individuals and families but also build a foundation of strength and resilience.
The Tangible Impact: Stories of Change and Hope
The true impact of the Flatbush Community Fund is felt in the quiet relief of parents able to feed their family, the joy of a student who succeeds in school, and the gratitude of a chatan and kallah who can start their lives without crushing debt.
“When it comes to making a simha, it’s not like we are throwing $500 at somebody. We are really helping them start a family. That’s not a small thing. When it comes to a bar mitzvah, we will subsidize a set of tefillin so no one has to worry about ‘How can I make my son feel special about his bar mitzvah and pay this month’s rent?’” Taylor explained.
Taylor added that many people who receive support from FCF eventually stabilize and offer to give back to the organization. “I’ve even received envelopes that have one dollar in it, with a letter that says, ‘This is what I can afford. Thank you for helping me.’ That one dollar makes a difference. We need the community to step up and contribute. Everything adds up.” FCF’s services foster a cycle of giving that reinforces our community’s ability to face challenges together.
FCF is a testament to the strength of our community, showcasing the power of unity and shared responsibility.