Sixteen years after its reconstitution in 1995, Hebrew Free Loan of New Jersey has loaned out its one millionth dollar.
The agency offers modest, interest-free loans for emergencies, medical expenses, starting or expanding a business, and other purposes for Jewish community members, spouses, and Jewish agency employees in the Metro-West area and Monmouth County.
HFL will lend up to $5,000 on a personal loan, up to $15,000 for home improvement, and up to $20,000 on a business loan.
The million-dollar mark “is pretty incredible,” said Jayne Sayovitz, assistant executive director at Jewish Family Service of MetroWest and coordinator of the Hebrew Free Loan. “That million dollars is money that has gone out and come back.”
“We recycle money so we can recycle people’s lives,” said Arthur Schechner of South Orange, who chairs HFL. “The story is not that we lent $1 million. The story is that there are one million stories out there.”
“We helped people bail themselves out of real problems — people who needed money to pay medical bills, people who were temporarily out of work, people who wanted to start a new business, people who wanted to send their kids to religious school, people who wanted to make a nice bar or bat mitzva for their kids and had no money, people who wanted to move their parents back up from Florida,” Schechner said.
Borrowers are guaranteed anonymity, but Sayovitz recalled a few cases: a couple who traveled to China to adopt a baby, a single mother who had medical expenses after she contracted multiple sclerosis, and the wife of a man in the last stage of Alzheimer’s disease who needed financial help.
“A gal asked for a business loan and I personally thought it was a strange business,” Schechner recalled. “She founded a magazine for pregnant Orthodox women. She parlayed the loan and sold the business for a lot of money and gave us a gift of $10,000 from the proceeds of the sale.”
As economic times have gotten tougher, requests for loans have been increasing. In 2008 HFL had 56 active loans. Three years later the figure is up to 70, said Sayovitz.
In her four years at JFS, she can remember denying only three loan requests to people considered financially unable to make repayments. But because JFS administers the program, she said, “we reach out to those families and help them, because they are in such a financially precarious position.”
“In the last six months we have had requests from people with reasonably high incomes,” Schechner said. “The level where you would have thought such people would have no money problems is slowly creeping up.”
Borrowers must have a connection to the Jewish community — an eligibility requirement that includes non-Jewish spouses and non-Jewish workers at the communal agencies under the umbrella of United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ or the Jewish Federation of Monmouth County, which has been part of the HFL since 2007.