Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles

The Harold Edelstein Foundation Legacy

For years, Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles's many programs and services have benefitted from the support of a very special benefactor – The Harold Edelstein Foundation.

When Harold Edelstein died at age 90 nearly 10 years ago, he left behind $20 million dollars in a charitable foundation, overseen by attorneys Frederick Simmons and Marvin Burns and financial advisor Marvin Rothenburg, who make up The Edelstein Foundation's Board of Directors.

In carrying out Harold's vision, they seek out nonprofits and community organizations in need of some extra help, following the foundation's mission statement: "Help the hungry and homeless… but do it directly in ways that have immediate, maximum effect." The Edelstein Foundation board members pride themselves on their ability to "fill in the gaps” -  their donations allow organizations like JFS to purchase necessities that make individuals and families in need live an easier life.

2011 marks a major milestone - as of this year, The Edelstein Foundation has donated nearly $2 million dollars to JFS. We sat down with Frederick Simmons to discuss the relationship between the two organizations and Harold’s legacy.

$2 million dollars is an enormous accomplishment. How do you think Harold would feel about this?

First of all, this is indeed a milestone. We have been working with JFS for more than a dozen years, and I think Harold would be gloriously pleased with the effect we’ve had on the community through this collaboration.

Harold was a quiet man who accumulated a fortunate and didn’t spend it on himself. Though he was Jewish, he wasn’t terribly observant, yet when I asked him what he wanted to do with all his money, he said to me, “Give it all to charity. Charity is more important than all the Ten Commandments.”

Harold was a shy man, but it was important to me that above all else, we preserve his memory. He once told me, “I’d like to be remembered.” There’s an old expression along the lines of “You never truly disappear as long as people remember your name,” and that’s how Harold’s memory lives on - through the work of The Edelstein Foundation.

What makes your organization stand apart from other organizations?

I run The Edelstein Foundation along with my co-directors Marvin Burns and Marvin Rothenberg. The three of us agree that the process of donating money to worthwhile organizations shouldn’t be buried in paperwork. Once we find a project that seems legitimate and are told “With your money, we will be able to do so much more,” we give it freely.

There’s no grant requests, there’s not a ton of paperwork - it essentially boils down to giving money to people who need it most who ask for it. We are open to helping anyone who reaches out to us. Oftentimes, the development directors and the heads of charities and organizations spend a great deal of time tracking down funding. They are so appreciative when The Edelstein Foundation takes the time to call and say “We’re here to help. What do you need?”

Because of The Edelstein Foundation’s support, JFS is able to help so many people. What are some of the specific projects that the foundation helps fund for JFS clients?

In recent years, JFS clients seeking a little extra help have received bus tokens and grocery store vouchers. JFS shelters have been able to stock up on healthy snacks and grocery store items for clients with special dietary restrictions. JFS's homeless clients have benefitted from new pairs of warm socks and sweatpants.

In all three of JFS { SOVA’s locations, there is a neon sign advertising “Harold’s Pantry,” and we invite people to ask for healthy snacks from Harold. Through Harold’s Pantries, we give out special bags filled with healthy, nutritional snacks for families with children as an alternative to junk food. Using money from the foundation, SOVA gives out Big Blue Bus and MTA bus tokens - these tokens help clients get home with the big bags of groceries that they’ve just picked up at the pantry. SOVA also gives out rain ponchos and socks to homeless clients and supermarket food vouchers to families whose circumstances are particularly bad.

Last year during the holidays, nearly 700 clients from various JFS programs received a special surprise of snacks, toiletries, and treats – all tucked inside a gift bag with a card attached reading “Happy Holidays from Harold – A Gift from The Edelstein Foundation.”

How do you think these extras, which we are able to provide for our clients with The Edelstein Foundation’s support, help the individuals who come through our doors?

Now and then, I go by SOVA to see how things are going. I see people like you and me - young people and old people, mothers, fathers, and children, individuals and families - and I talk to them. They tell me that SOVA is their salvation.                                

What this money does is allows these people to stretch their dollars for gas or bills or insurance, while we take care of providing them with food. I think these people see that SOVA really recognizes their situation, and they look upon it as a kind of personal help from Harold to get them through their time of trouble. SOVA recognizes their situation and gives them what they need in a respectful manner. People come into SOVA, and they get more than food - they get help.

Portions of this interview originally appeared in the 2011 Year End JFS { SOVA Newsletter.

To read a group of personal stories and vignettes from JFS clients who have been helped by The Edelstein Foundation's generous support, please click here.


Fred Simmons at one of our three
JFS { SOVA pantry locations

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