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Charities create online toolkit to help those affected by cost of living stress

The initiative offers tips on how to deal with utility and medical bills for members of the community struggling with increases in the cost of living.
Paula Towers
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Ilustration: TJI

Published: 26 April 2024

Last updated: 6 May 2024

A new online Cost of Living Toolkit has been created to address the needs of members of the Jewish community impacted by increased costs.

Featuring easy, practical tips on reducing costs – such as medical and utility bills as well as in the financial area, the toolkit is a collaboration between Melbourne Jewish Charity Fund, C Care and The Social Blueprint. It had a “soft” launch just before Passover, with a formal launch and more information and tips to be added.

“We are streamlining access to essential support services,” The Social Blueprint founder Sharon Lowe told The Jewish Independent.

“Our toolkits are designed to simplify the process, ensuring that anyone can easily locate the assistance they need. We have been working with Melbourne Jewish Charity Fund and C Care to understand what is needed.”

By empowering people, the aim is to avoid having them become clients of social assistance services. As the CEO of Melbourne Jewish Charity Fund, Yoni Paluch, explains: “There are a lot of families struggling who reach out for charitable assistance – but there are a lot who aren’t reaching out, that are probably just keeping their heads above water. We want to try to ensure they don’t get into a position where they need to reach out for charity.

“We can provide some tips and tricks that they may not have thought of, that could mean they save a little bit of money – which may make the difference,” Paluch said. “We’d much rather have them stand on their own two feet.”

The MJCF says it expects to reach more than 3000 people in the community this year.

For example, many people aren’t aware that they can contact the financial hardship areas of utility companies, often resulting in an amount being waived or a convenient payment program set up; or that they can contact their bank to re-negotiate mortgages.

The MJCF says it expects to reach more than 3000 people in the community this year. “We’re on track to provide between $2.7-$2.8 million – and that’ll be to some 700 households,” says Paluch.

For Passover, the toolkit organisers approached a number of wholesalers and distributors to source Passover foods at a discounted rate. “We’re trying to make the dollar go further and provide key products to clients at significantly discounted prices – they’re paying around 80% below retail – so they can afford the festival with joy.”

The MJCF is collaborating with other Jewish welfare organisations, often where there’s an overlap with clients. C Care provides meals to clients and MJCF refers many clients to them, while C Care refers many to MJCF for financial assistance.

We’ve been hit by the compounded factors of an increased demand and, at the same time, a decrease in donations.

Yoni Paluch, CEO of MJCF

Cost of living increases have also impacted the capacity of donors to give. MJCF is entirely dependent on private donations, mostly from individuals or charitable foundations. In the past couple of years, the charity has seen a lot of donations decrease while the demand increases.

“Now it’s become twofold – the increased cost of living means people don’t have the same disposable income to give to charity and secondly – a lot has gone to Israel. Obviously, it’s the right thing to do, and people need to dig deep. But at the same time, we need to look after our local community. From October to December, we saw a real drying up of donations. And not just us,” Paluch reports.

“I’ve spoken to a number of local charities, and they’ve seen the same thing – we’ve been hit by the compounded factors of an increased demand and, at the same time, a decrease in donations, which has meant we’ve had to dip significantly into reserves.”

The demand for medical assistance has seen a 68% increase – the figure for this financial year, as at March 31, was $234,357. “I think the reason is that when someone’s in financial hardship, the first thing is paying the mortgage or rent, then food is the next critical need.

“So what falls by the wayside is [medical needs, such as] speech or occupational therapy, dentistry or psychology. When funds are exhausted, these are the next things people reach out for, with a lot of people actually saying, ‘I’m going to go without’.”

Increasing prices of fruit, vegetables and groceries have meant clients need top-ups, as well as new clients approaching seeking some help: The MJCF has continued to give out Coles vouchers. These are now reaching a monthly average of $40,885 per month compared to $24,712 for the same time last year (a 65% increase).

After becoming aware that children were attending school with torn and ill-fitting shoes because parents could not afford properly sized new ones, MJCF also introduced a shoe subsidy program, providing shoe vouchers to families. Again, for this financial year, close to 400 kids will receive new shoes through MJCF.

Set up over 50 years ago, the Melbourne Jewish Charity Fund is the largest provider of financial welfare support in the Melbourne Jewish community.

Access The Social Blueprint Cost of Living Toolkits online and find out more or donate to the Melbourne Jewish Charity Fund and C Care. The Social Blueprint thanks the Jack and Robert Smorgon Families Foundation for their sponsorship.

About the author

Paula Towers

Paula Towers is a writer and editor, and has also worked as a political speechwriter and researcher. Currently, Paula is a presenter and producer on the Arts Thursday show at Sydney's Eastside Radio as well as a freelance writer for print publications and a travel web site.


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