Atlanta Gemach Reaches Beyond Orthodox Community

from The New York Times:

Loans Without Profit Help Relieve Economic Pain

Now 39 years old and serving as the rabbi of a Chabad center near Atlanta, Rabbi Minkowicz has done something he never expected: open a gemach that deals primarily with non-Orthodox Jews in a prosperous stretch of suburbia. The reason, quite simply, is the prolonged downturn in the American economy, which has driven up the number of Jews identified by one poverty expert as the “middle-class needy.”

The same phenomenon has appeared in Jewish communities across the country, albeit most often in those with existing Orthodox populations already familiar with the gemach system. This institution, rooted in biblical and Talmudic teachings and whose name is a contraction of the Hebrew words for “bestowal of kindness” (“gemilut chasadim”), is now meeting needs created by such resolutely modern causes as subprime mortgages, outsourcing and credit default swaps.

… It is difficult to determine the exact dimensions of the economy’s impact on the Jewish population in general and on the surge in the use of gemachs specifically. The loan programs, often financed and run by families, operate on the basis of anonymity. Governmental statistics on poverty, unemployment, foreclosure and other such measures of the continuing malaise are not broken down by religion, as they are by race.

Still, the evidence points to an economic toll on Jews – not severe enough in most cases to plunge them into homelessness and destitution, or to qualify them for food stamps and Medicaid, but deep enough to destabilize what had been securely middle-class lives. Since the stock market collapse in late 2008 pushed the nation into recession, the demand for food and clothes from Jewish social service agencies and charities has risen by roughly 40 percent, according to their administrators.