Meet Tom Beck of Jewish Family Services of Central New Jersey

The following interview is part of the Philanthropy Roundtable’s “Free to Give” series highlighting the impact that philanthropy can have when Americans have the right to give freely to the causes and communities they care about most. Learn more here.

“Our food pantry went from 2,600 people served in 2019 – which was already a record for us – to about 1,600 people a month in 2020. I’ve been on an adrenaline rush for about nine months now.”

“We’re one of the few Jewish Family Services in the country that provide so many wraparound services for families and the elderly, from meals on wheels and home health to transportation and career counseling. The agency began in 1912 as a Hebrew free-loan society and evolved over the years to become a non-sectarian health and social services provider.”

“Every part of the agency has been impacted by this pandemic. The need has just been incredible. In 2019, our home health program provided maybe 90,000 hours of service. In 2020, that was closer to 120,000 hours.”

“I go out to our food pantry, which is here on the grounds of the agency, and I see the desperation and the gratitude from those who received the food, the toys and the coats. Sometimes, I would have to leave because I would basically start sobbing.”

“I hear the stories where families have broken down, and our very skilled mental health staff have been there, virtually, putting the pieces of lives back together.”

“We turned our agency upside down in a period of a month to meet the needs that COVID-19 caused. Donors – through various funds, including donor-advised funds and the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ – have really helped out. The community has really come together around us during this time of emergency and need.”

“Because of our care, not one person we serve has entered a nursing home – not one in nine months – because of our home health and nursing care services, our meals on wheels and transportation services.”

“Our donors, often through donor-advised funds with the Jewish Federation and others, have poured their hearts and funds out. They have funded the work of this agency in multiple ways, and their support has been extremely helpful in allowing us to meet the many needs of the community.”

“One donor, who gave through a donor-advised fund, helped make our virtual senior center program possible. Juniper – the name we gave the program – has live, interactive programs and a library of remote activities. It is very easy to use. It has helped us reach the homebound, isolated elderly, and bring some resemblance of a social life to them, so they don’t feel so isolated during this time.”

“Donor-advised funds have made it possible for our supporters to react quickly in crisis and respond to our needs. There’s no bureaucracy. Working with the Federation in this area has allowed us to meet our needs very quickly. I spoke to one donor about a particular need, got that commitment and received a check four days later.”

“We wouldn’t have been able to do our work and respond like we did without this. I’m very proud of what we’ve been able to do here and the lives we’ve touched with our response. It has been beautiful to see the people with the best hearts coming together to support us and make our mission possible.”

– Tom Beck, executive director of Jewish Family Services of Central New Jersey in Elisabeth, New Jersey

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