Organization offers Interest-Free Personal, Business and Educational Loans
By Daniel Horowitz--Jews have always felt the responsibility to take care of one another.
Many who immigrated to the shores of Toronto in the early 1900’s to escape persecution in Europe arrived with little or no money and needed to seek out entrepreneurial opportunities which were financed by the first incarnations of communal loan societies. Often, it was one family offering small loans to other families to help them get started. Looking back, this was the birth of the micro-loan.
Fast forward over a hundred years and into a new millennium, and Jewish Free Loan Toronto, formerly known as Toronto Jewish Free Loan Cassa, continues the work of our ancestors, albeit with a new name and a new commitment to spreading the word about this vital organization that continues to improve the lives of countless Jews across the Greater Toronto Area.
One of the reasons for the name change is simply few understood what “Cassa” actually meant.
For the record, it’s German for “cash box”.
“We’ve changed our name, but, philosophically, nothing has changed about Jewish Free Loan Toronto,” explains the organization’s new executive director, Michael Freedman. “We are still here to help those members of the Jewish community who are in need by providing them with a hand-up, not a hand-out.”
And, with the recent instability in the global economy, and with approximately 10 percent of the GTA’s Jewish community living at – or below – the poverty line, the need to spread the word about Jewish Free Loan Toronto has never been greater.
The organization, a partner agency of UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, is located in the Lipa Green Centre for Jewish Community Services on Sherman Campus. UJA Federation, along with United Way of Greater Toronto, provides funding towards the agency’s operating costs.
It offers three types of loans: personal, education and small business start-up.
In 2011, Jewish Free Loan Toronto – then still known as Cassa - gave out loans ranging from $5,000 to $15,000 to 92% of applicants. Loans given to 153 individuals totaled $833,000 and currently the organization has $1.4 million worth of loans in circulation to 490 individuals. Loans are available to Jewish residents of the GTA who are Canadian citizens or permanent residents of Canada.
“We do a good job of getting our name and our services out to the community, but not a great job,” says Freedman, a 53-year-old father of two and a native of New Brunswick. “Clearly, we’d like to believe that every Jew across the GTA is doing well financially, but we know that there are many who need our services. There are too many others who don’t know what we offer.
I love the fact that once a loan is paid back, that money is automatically placed back into the pool, and is ready to be loaned out again, to help others. To know that the work we do results in a perpetual circle of assistance, is truly rewarding. And, like with all non-profits, much of that work, and our success, is due to the tireless efforts of our incredible volunteers.”
When Freedman heard that Jewish Free Loan Toronto was looking for a new executive director, his curiosity about the organization led to him to learn more before accepting the position around a year ago.
“I have been involved with a number of charitable organizations for years, both inside and outside of the Jewish community, and yet I was unaware of the full spectrum of what Free Loan does,” he says. “That’s why I took the job; the more I learned about what Jewish Free Loan Toronto offered, the more I knew that we had to spread the word about this incredible organization and increase the number of loans we provide.”
“One of the most rewarding aspects of this job is when we see people who, at one time, came to us for a loan, come forward now to donate money to our organization,” says Marlee Petroff, who has worked for the organization for 25 years. “It really says a lot about our community; that they always want to give back, and they never forget who was there for them, when they needed help.”
For more information, or to apply for a loan, visit jewishfreeloan.ca or call 416.635.1217.