The smell of damp stayed on my clothes for the rest of the day. The state of the flat was appalling – doors hung off kitchen cupboards; the bathroom looked like something I imagined out of a squat.
Before The Fed stepped in to help these clients, they had no fridge or freezer and were surviving on microwaved food from tins and packets. Shopping for fresh food was not an option.
Both in their 80s, with no family in the world other than a disabled daughter living in a care home, they had been pawning sentimental jewelry simply to survive.
My visit, soon after joining The Fed in April 2019 as its Director of Fundraising, Marketing and Communications, was the very first I ever made alongside one of my social work colleagues. It left me shocked me to the core and gave me sleepless nights.
I wish I could say such cases are a one-off; sadly, that could not be further from the truth.
For this couple, however, there was a happy ending. My wonderful colleagues in our Community Advice and Support Team (CAST) – The Fed’s social work team – secured many years of pension credit backpay, as well as new white goods. These immensely proud, resilient people can now live the rest of their lives in dignity.
But tragically, for thousands of Jewish people across Greater Manchester, the struggle with issues such as poverty is a daily fact of life, which I often see with my own eyes.
When I started work at The Fed, I thought I had a good idea of the work the organisation: I knew about Heathlands Village and its state-of-the-art care for our elderly; I knew The Fed helped older people in our community through befriending and shopping.
It turns out I knew a mere fraction of the whole – and I was not alone.
I made it my mission to inform the community – your community – of the harsh reality that affects thousands of our fellow Jews. I undertook to ensure that the community would have a far greater understanding of why supporting The Fed is so important.
But as bad as it was back in 2019, it was about to get a whole lot worse.
For a charity like The Fed, working on the frontline of social care in both residential care for older people and community support for all ages, Covid-19 hit us like a tsunami, that kept on coming and coming. Overnight we had to adapt our services and switch into critical support mode.
At Heathlands Village it became literally a battle to save lives. Work practices were completely revised, as our heroic staff faced a deadly, invisible enemy that threatened themselves, their families and of course, our residents. We endured the harrowing tragedy of losing 24 residents over several months to Covid – dear friends who were part of the daily fabric of our lives.
The impact across the community was just as daunting: we lost clients and volunteers and along with the nation bore lockdowns, furlough, home schooling, and isolation, all of which meant that calls for help to our two community teams – CAST and Volunteering Services – reached record highs.
In 2021 The Fed received over 5,600 requests for advice and support. Issues involving mental illness, domestic abuse, sexual abuse, loneliness, isolation, self-harm, and poverty increased at an epidemic rate.
When I show people the map highlighting the geographical expanse of The Fed’s impact – depicting the one in seven Jewish homes supported across our city region – they are astounded.
Let that sink in. One in seven homes – or more than 6,500 of our fellow Jews – benefiting from The Fed’s support.
They see that our Community Services teams don’t only operate in the traditional Jewish heartlands of North and South Manchester. Although most people we support do live here, our operations also take us much further afield to places like Rawtenstall, Frodsham, Littleborough and Handforth Dean.
Even in the middle of the community, those we support are concealed – hiding in plain sight. They are your neighbours; they are children that your kids go to school with; the person you sit next to in shul or stand next to in the queue at the kosher deli.
In our very own community, we have parents who must decide between buying a bed for their children or feeding them; elderly people who have to wash their bedding in the bath because they cannot afford a washing machine; women fleeing abusive spouses; parents of a child whose complex behavioral issues affect the whole family – whose only respite is when the child comes to The Fed’s Children’s Centre for a few hours. We have individuals and families living in abject poverty, in run-down homes, for whom the state benefits which The Fed helps them claim means the difference between being able to eat and heat, or not; teenagers who self-harm or are obsessed with thoughts of killing themselves; people of all ages who – if not for a Fed volunteer – would sit staring at the same four walls for weeks on end.
The amount of social need is heartbreaking. It is real. And it is increasing.
In 2021 The Fed worked flat-out to meet the demand for support. Whilst people across many industries furloughed entire workforces, The Fed ramped up its services. Our social workers, volunteer coordinators, fundraising and marketing staff, aided by our incredible army of over 550 volunteers, worked till they were running on empty to help thousands of fellow Mancunian Jews.
I am so proud of how The Fed responded and transformed people’s lives – and some cases, saved them.
‘The cost-of-living crisis’ is a phrase we are hearing far too much of, and its effect on the Jewish community will mirror that of wider society. People will be poorer, mental health will deteriorate, and isolation will increase. And even more people will turn to The Fed for help. We must be there for them. We cannot ignore their need.
As the Director of Fundraising, Marketing and Communications for Manchester’s largest Jewish charity, I am responsible for ensuring we raise a staggering £1.9 million this year to balance our books and maintain our crucial support for the thousands who rely on us now or will come to rely on us in the next 12 months. That figure has increased from £1.5 million in just one year.
The Fed is not a national charity. We are unlike many other Jewish organisations running services in our city, 90% of whose funding is from London donors. On the contrary, the vast majority of donations to The Fed comes from our Manchester community – from, as you might expect and as is only right, the community it exists to serve – your community.
The Fed does not have the luxury of a large London donor base. For us, for the large part, charity begins and ends, at home. And I am so grateful for this fact.
But a challenge remains – to develop the philanthropic leadership of tomorrow.
We must encourage more of the community’s younger generation, especially those who have ‘done well’, to donate at a level that is commensurate with their success and start to pick up the responsibility which has rested for so long on the shoulders of our older generations.
We live in a multicultural society. Many of us support mainstream causes. But history has sadly taught us that if we as Jews do not look after our own, no one else will.
Ensuring that the younger generations appreciate this fact is for me a passion and a priority.
I am often asked if the amount of money The Fed needs to raise scares me. It doesn’t. What scares me is the thought of what will happen to thousands of our fellow Mancunian Jews if we do not raise that money. It is why we dare not rest for a single minute.
My last three years have flown by. I consider myself incredibly fortunate that the job I get to do feeds my stomach and my soul. I am privileged to be able to do this work.
And I am privileged to work with such inspiring colleagues, donors and volunteers whose selflessness never ceases to amaze me, and often leaves me feeling incredibly humbled. Together we all play a part in creating and shaping the care The Fed provides, and in maintaining a strong, resilient safety net for our community.
Together, with you, we must ensure it remains so.