Jewish Free Loan Toronto (JFLT) has been around for 90 years – nearly as long as the Jewish community itself – so it only makes sense that an occasion that auspicious should be marked.
JFLT will host the 32nd annual International Association of Jewish Free Loans conference from Oct. 26-28, and part of that meeting will include a celebration to honour the hosts.
Twenty-three free loan societies from across North America, including those from Vancouver, Winnipeg and Montreal, will be represented in Toronto, along with one from Israel, to take part in the celebration.
All well and good, but getting out the message to the wider public about the good work done by the JFLT is the primary objective of its new executive director, Marra Messinger.
The JFLT is a community resource that is open for business and has room to grow. It is known in the community, but not known enough, she said.
The numbers she cites are modest but the loans can be transformative. An average of 300 people a year receive interest-free loans from the society. Altogether, about $1.95 million in loans is circulating in the community at any one time. In addition to providing business loans to would-be entrepreneurs, JFLT’s mandate includes educational loans (58 so far this year), personal loans and even loans for those undergoing fertility treatment or adopting children.
“We deal with a lot of new immigrants from Russia, Israel and South America to help give them a start, room to breathe,” said Messinger.
One young woman received a $7,500 loan to store her eggs for future use. The 21-year-old had been diagnosed with cancer and was scheduled to undergo a hysterectomy, rendering her infertile. The loan helped her put aside eggs for the future.
All JFLT loans are interest free, though the agency requires guarantors for each one. There is a sliding repayment schedule that varies with the amount borrowed as well as its purpose. The repayment schedules are quite generous, said Messinger.
Money borrowed for education – university, college, trade school or religious seminary – maxes out at $10,000 and can be paid back at $50 a month for those still in school, or up to $125 a month for those out of school.
People can receive up to $7,500 for fertility treatments, paid back at a rate of $125 a month.
“We have a very low default percentage,” she said, “Zero per cent for student loans and only 1.4 per cent default on personal loans.”
JFLT receives its funds from UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, the United Way, and from private benefactors, Messinger said.
The three-day conference of international free loan societies will include speakers and seminars on fundraising strategies, volunteering, risk management and marketing.
Leaving just enough time at the end for a little birthday celebration.