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Joyce needed help right away. A 57-year old single Jewish woman, Joyce suffered from a raft of health problems — depression, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic pancreatitis that resulted in diabetes — and though she managed to work part-time, was struggling with financial strain. She had filed for disability, but while her application remained in limbo, Joyce could scarcely pay the $500 a month for her rented room in Lansdale. She needed rent money, and fast. She found it in an age-old safety net: The Female Hebrew Benevolent Society (FHBS).

Founded in 1819 to help “indigent sisters of the house of Israel,” the Jewish Federation-supported FHBS is America’s oldest continuously-run Jewish charitable organization. “Emergency aid has been at our core since 1819,” says FHBS President Eileen Sklaroff. Back when the organization was founded by the women of Congregation Mikveh Israel and guided by Rebecca Gratz, that emergency aid meant delivering firewood or food. Today, the Emergency Aid program provides small grants (averaging about $465) to cover basic needs in a financial crisis, like mortgage payments, utility bills, doctors bills and health insurance. “When you see the difference it makes, you have to get passionate about helping these women,” says Eileen who, like every member of FHBS, serves as a dedicated volunteer.

In its last fiscal year, FHBS distributed $128,449 to 203 women through its various programs, including its Emergency Response Systems program, which provides wearable pendants for older Jewish women that summon an emergency responder at the push of a button. “I have a waiting list of 11 women right now,” says Eileen. “I cannot sleep at night knowing people need this device.”

As for Joyce’s crisis over rent money? Over the course of a year and a half, Joyce received eight FHBS grants of $250 each towards her rent. When at last she began receiving social security disability benefits, FHBS continued sending $200 rent checks to her landlord for a few months more, to help smooth Joyce’s transition to self-sufficiency. Says Eileen, “As the saying goes, ‘There but for fortune go you or I.’”

To learn more about the Female Hebrew Benevolent Society, click here.