“Everyone Said Yes”: How A Foundation Chief Found Focus In A Pandemic

A pandemic has a way to put life in perspective — and convince people to help each other out. Lisa Stanger is among those who have noticed that during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Lisa Stranger

Helena Schanzer with her mother’s document bag

Stanger runs the Jewish Foundation of Greater New Haven, an umbrella organization that manages over 700 charitable funds on behalf of distribution for synagogues, social service agencies, schools and camps. She has done the work for 15 years.

That experience and local knowledge came in handy when the pandemic hit in March 2020. Immediately she and her board convened an effort to raise emergency dollars for people who would need food or other help. Stanger found herself in a new role: dialing, say, doctors to make personal appeals for one-time contributions (on top of her job of helping donors establish funds, then investing the money and distributing the proceeds).

Stranger was struck by the reaction: “Everyone said yes.”

The effort raised $500,000. She was able to find matching national dollars. Stanger then directed money to the Towers assisted-living facility to help seniors receive meals in their rooms and use iPads to stay in contact virtually with family friends; to Jewish Family Services, which runs a food pantry and family support programs; and to individual congregants in need identified by local rabbis.

Stranger also noticed that the effort helped her focus and contribute amid all the personal disruption of the pandemic, from her husband’s rounds as a doctor in the Yale New Haven Hospital intensive care unit to her daughter’s adjustment to temporarily-virtual college.

“For me emotionally, it helped me get through Covid,” Stanger said. “I felt like I had a call to action and I could make a difference.”

Stanger talked about that — and about the work of the Foundation, which just announced that its assets grew 35 percent to $75 million during the past pandemic year — during an episode of WNHH FM’s “Dateline New Haven.” Click on the video to watch it.