She was about to be evicted from her home. “I wasn’t eating or sleeping and was running myself into the ground. I was getting ill, negative and short-tempered.”
So said Karen (not her real name), a person typical of those Ginny Gendelman meets regularly as executive director of the Milwaukee Jewish Free Loan Association. The MJFLA helps people resolve their financial situations with interest-free loans. “We provide an opportunity for people to remain self-sufficient,” Gendelman said. “It’s a hand up, not a handout.”
Gendelman became familiar with the independent, non-sectarian non-profit international agency while living in Los Angeles. When she moved to Milwaukee and discovered there wasn’t a free loan agency in town, she rounded up donors and got one started.
As loans are repaid, funds are recycled. The majority of loans are for emergencies or to help students afford college. The student loan fund started about five years ago.
Karen’s situation became an emergency after she took a high interest loan. Karen, 48, a divorced mother of a 24-year-old son, teaches in the Milwaukee school system, but needed to add two part-time jobs and four more smaller loans. Most of her money went to loan repayment, with a little going for food and gas. Rent? The landlord had to wait.
Research led her to contact Gendelman. “Ginny was really wonderful,” Karen said.
Since 2009, MJFLA has approved 352 loans for a combined $727,039. The loans have a 99.7 percent repayment rate. To receive a loan, a person must live in the Greater Milwaukee area, be at least 18 years old, unable to get a loan elsewhere, must have a source of income to repay the debt and must have two co-signers for loans over $500.
The MJFLA’s Board of Directors approves the loans. Karen was approved, after asking her son to be a co-signer. “I get emotional thinking about it,” she said. “It wasn’t the first time I went to him. Last year when I almost got evicted, he paid my rent and paid off my loans. He made me promise not to get into that situation again. Yet a year and a half later, I was in the same boat.”
“Pulling my son into this is the worst part,” she said.
The loans, Gendelman said, “help people who can never come up with enough money to get out of the debt cycle.”
Kari Altman, who became MJFLA board president in January, said her agency “can provide that one moment of kindness that sets the loan recipient on a better path for the future. A loan is better than charity because it enables people to help themselves.”
Another person MJFLA has helped is Roberta (not her real name). The portfolio management specialist is 43-years-old, been married 17 years and has three children, the youngest of whom is 9.
“Despite our hard work, my family has struggled financially since my dad passed away unexpectedly of a heart attack at the age of 51,” Roberta said.
He owned a shop that built molds for car parts and had 30 employees, including Roberta and her husband.
“We decided to try to carry on the business, but unfortunately, this was at the same time the housing market crashed and automotive followed,” Roberta said. “Our largest vendor filed for bankruptcy, owing us $330,000. We were never able to recover. I was unemployed and we were struggling to put food on the table and pay rent. Things were spiraling out of control.”
When she found the MJFLA, she thought, “It seems too good to be true. It was exactly what we needed. Ginny does not judge; she made me feel so comfortable.”
Altman said it was “heartwarming” thinking of people the MJFLA has helped. The Board approved Roberta’s loan on her daughter’s fourth birthday.
“We were able to splurge on a princess birthday cake.”
* * *
Movie night with Milwaukee Jewish Free Loan Association
WHAT: The Milwaukee Jewish Free Loan Association’s sixth annual movie night event
WHEN: Thursday, Oct. 19
WHERE: Marcus North Shore Cinema, 11700 N. Port Washington Road, Mequon.
TIME: Hors d’oerves, soft drinks, coffee, dessert and cash bar at 6:30 p.m. in the lounge, movie (with popcorn included), “Victoria & Abdul” begins at 8 p.m.
RSVP: Go to MJFLA.org, where you can also make donations.
FYI: The agency is honoring Cathy and Arnie Peltz, who established the Grand Avenue Club Loan Fund that guarantees all GAC member loans.