SILVER SPRING, MD–– Mitzvah goreret mitzvah. One good deed leads to another. That certainly has been the case with the Franco Foundation.
In a sense, the foundation started by accident, beginning as an effort by members of the Sephardi Minyan of Young Israel Shomrai Emunah of Greater Washington to help a family in dire straits.
“I and other members of the minyan committed to helping them for a few years,” said Allan Franco, who created the foundation in 1999 as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and administers it to this day. “I spoke with my accountant, and he volunteered to set the foundation up.”
Initially, the foundation was intended to allow members of the Sephardi Minyan to make financial contributions for families in need of assistance.
“The first year, our assistance totaled around $8,000 and maybe 10 people from the minyan gave on a monthly basis,” said Franco.
The foundation expanded as the need expanded. Today, the Franco Foundation serves residents in the Silver Spring communities of White Oak, Woodside, and Kemp Mill; in Rockville, Maryland; and in Washington, D.C. Contributions come from all over the area, though 90 percent are from Kemp Mill.
Passion for community service is something Allan Franco learned at home from the example of his parents Nathan and Dotty Franco. They grew closer to Judaism through their relationship with the late Rabbi Gedaliah Anemer of Shomrai Emunah, noted Franco.
An individual or family in need typically receives assistance for at most six months, because the goal is to “assist struggling families or individuals until they can get back on their feet financially,” said Franco. That can be challenging, because some individuals or families may not be able to bounce back by then. There are those who need to continue to receive assistance, even if it’s a more modest amount, like $200 or $300 a month.
“It means a lot to them,” Franco said.
He has no choice but to take people off assistance sometimes after six months because new families need help and he is working with a limited budget.
Some people in need approach Franco directly, but he also gets referrals from their friends or from area rabbis. He maintains strong connections with the rabbinical leadership, relying on their guidance.
The Franco Foundation presently distributes $15,000 to $18,000 of contributions per month between 18 families. In 2015, donations totaled almost $250,000. As many as 75 to 100 donors contribute to the foundation per month, giving an average of $200-$400 monthly and keeping local families afloat with their regular contributions.
Though the one-person dynamo behind the foundation, Franco called its success the “direct result” of the generosity of the local Jewish community and the trust they have in the Franco family.
That trust is enhanced by the fact that the Franco Foundation has the optimal operating costs for any nonprofit: none. “Our contributors know that 100 percent of their donations is spent on helping others,” said Franco. “We don’t keep even five or 10 percent. The foundation also has no payroll.” Franco covers whatever office supplies are needed, and his accountant still does all tax returns at no charge.
Two recipients of Franco Foundation assistance described the assistance they had received on the condition of anonymity.
One family faced various difficulties, which included a child with chronic medical needs requiring “higher-than-usual” medication and medical care costs. Marital separation and the change to a single-income household complicated their situation.
“The Foundation helped us by providing funds to pay for medication, co-pays, medical bills and groceries,” the recipient said. “But it was more than that. It relieved a huge stress at times when stresses were really, really high. For someone without parents or other family members in the area, having support through a call or e-mail when all other resources are exhausted is tremendous.”
The other family faced a sudden and severe medical emergency after the husband–– who had been the main source of income for the family–– was unable to work for more than six months. There had been financial difficulties prior to his illness, but their situation was just beginning to improve when this crisis occurred.
The wife was unable to work for several months as well, both because she was unemployed and then had to care for her husband.
“A friend reached out to the Franco Foundation for us,” the recipient said. “We received much-needed financial assistance from them, which was greatly needed to help us pay the mortgage and grocery bills.”
It isn’t always easy making the decisions that so deeply affect people’s lives, especially since the process rests entirely on Franco. While the foundation lacks the red tape of some charities, he nevertheless requires a comprehensive snapshot of the would-be recipient’s financial situation, analyzing it with the eye of an experienced business person. He also looks into health issues and whether the individual or family is receiving assistance from anyone else.
“But the process is fast,” Franco said. “I ponder it for a day or so, and then act.”
The decision for the foundation’s contributors is usually much simpler.
Asked why give to the Franco Foundation in particular when there are so many philanthropic organizations, one donor responded, “I choose to donate to the Franco Foundation because the money stays within the local community, helping families in financial need without any of the donated money ‘wasted’ on needless overhead. It is special because I know the Franco family personally and trust their integrity and honesty.”
Although the foundation doesn’t “advertise,” Franco said that Max Rudmann, a Kemp Mill resident deeply involved in tzedakah work, makes sure information about it is included on the local listservs and in the “Shabbat Shorts” newsletter of Young Israel Shomrai Emunah a few times per year.
Franco suspects there are many local families whose needs are not being met by community institutions; in fact, he was hesitant to have this article published out of concern that the foundation might be inundated with a potential influx of new cases beyond its capacity to support. In order for the foundation to be able to continue its work effectively, he must ensure that it always has sufficient funds for the next six to eight months.
The Franco Foundation has a warm, cooperative relationship with Yad Yehuda, another local organization that offers free Shabbat meals and financial assistance. “I speak with Nechemia Mond often about situations we’re both aware of,” Franco said of the organization’s founder. Franco would like to see greater coordination of services in the Greater Washington Jewish community to assist those in need more effectively.
“It would be extremely helpful to form a communal social services committee to help families and individuals find work and make better financial decisions–– such as moving to a smaller house or seeking better rental rates when they are in the midst of unfortunate events–– so they require a short-term solution to help get them back on their feet rather than having to rely on longer-term support,” said Franco. Some components of such a committee already exist, such as KempMillJobAssist, run by Rudmann and David Marwick.
“What began as a great idea has become a critical safety net for those on the brink of losing their house–– facing eviction, utility cutoffs–– or a lack of basic necessities,” Franco said with pride. With wider coordination and the continued generosity of the Greater Washington community, the Franco Foundation could lead the way toward more mitzvot than ever before.