Small Loans, Better Lives

Medical emergencies. Late rent. Home improvements. School tuition payments. Where there is a need, Hebrew Free Loan is there.

The Hebrew Free Loan Association, HFLA, has been doing business in Baltimore since 1898. An agency of THE ASSOCIATED: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, its role is just as its name implies: an agency that has made thousands of no-interest loans to the people of Jewish Baltimore. Dovid Yisroel Katz, an accountant with Katz & Associates, P.A. in Pikesville, currently serves as the president. He says the agency sees three to four new applicants each week and typically more than half of those applicants qualify for a loan.

How does it happen? Each Thursday evening, between 7:00 and 8:30 p.m., the HFLA office, located at 5750 Park Heights Avenue in the Jewish Community Services building, is open. A team of dedicated volunteers from all walks of Jewish life see potential loan recipients, to hear about their plights and to determine if they qualify for funding.  As each applicant applies, he or she must present his or her need and demonstrate that he or she can repay the loan – HFLA is governed by the guidelines set forth by the Internal Revenue Service.  The recipient must provide a guarantor for approximately every $1,000 loaned.

Who makes it happen? The volunteers … and only the volunteers (with overhead support by The Associated). While many Federation free loan associations exist throughout the United States, HFLA is one of very few that has no paid professionals on staff. A voluntary board – with some members that have served for decades – does all the work. The board is proud to have fathers, sons, uncles and nephews on the board together.

What types of expenditures are covered? There’s a wide range, including medical and dental bills, down payments on automobile purchases, rent and utility bills. Loan applicants have received money for window replacements to make their homes more energy efficient. HFLA has provided funds to assist with tuition payments, including those for college books and living expenses. In addition, HFLA provides loans for weddings, funerals, bar and bas mitzvahs, for Pesach food and tickets to Israel.

How much can you get? As much as you need, but typically loans are around $3,000. Currently, there are about 150 to 175 loans outstanding, with around $250,000 due. However, the HFLA has the ability to fund substantially more loans.

Why not charge interest? It’s the Jewish way. According to Katz, the HFLA follows the mandate proscribed in parshas Mishpasim: “If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not be like a moneylender; charge him no interest” (Shemos 22:25).

Does this really have impact? YES! The stories speak for themselves. Take the Scheer family. When they needed help with the medical bills that mounted after Roberta’s treatment for breast cancer, a neighbor suggested they seek help from the HFLA.

“The interest-free loan we were able to get enabled us to pay our bills and get our footing after a really trying time for our family,” Roberta says. “The loan officer treated us with compassion and respect. I am so grateful for having a place to turn when we really needed someone.”

Today, says Katz, the success stories are in the thousands. The most gratifying is when past borrowers become co-signers on loans for others. “Those are individuals who once needed help, but are now in a position to help others,” he says.

Do you or someone you know need assistance? Please contact the Hebrew Free Loan Association of Baltimore, an agency of THE ASSOCIATED, at 410-466-9200, ext. 216 or hfla@jfs.org. Learn more online at www.hebrewfreeloan.org.

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