For any family, a cancer diagnosis makes their world come to a screeching halt as they try to shift schedules and enlist friends and family members to help them navigate their new reality. Community members and shuls look to help with meals and babysitting, but what many don’t realize is that the needs at this time can be much more extensive than imaginable. If an adult is sick, they often have to leave a job to go for treatments. If a child is sick, then a parent may still have to put a career on the back burner in order to care for their child, between extended hospital stays, long appointments and the fact that the child often cannot be in school during this time. Whatever the situation, the reality is that a source of income is no longer available, leaving another stress for the family to worry about during an already emotional and challenging time.
In 2010 Chaim Feigenbaum was diagnosed with leukemia and was told he would now have to undergo long treatments and would no longer be able to work. Being part of his family’s business allowed him to make arrangements where he could keep his job and work around the treatments and his needs, still supporting his wife and two children. Though he was able to maintain financial stability, he was keenly aware of how rare his situation was and never forgot that many others in similar situations are not as financially secure during this time.
Throughout his treatment, and even during his relapse in 2012, Chaim continued to acknowledge the blessing of his workplace flexibility and wanted to found an organization to help families of cancer patients who cannot pay their rent or mortgage due to cancer treatments.
“He recognized that even if illness would keep one out of work, knowing that there was always a place to come home to would be one less stressful thing for a struggling family to worry about,” his family wrote. As Chaim relapsed in 2012 and went back for chemotherapy, he and his family initiated paperwork on an organization called Project Yechi, an acronym of his Hebrew initials. Though he passed away in May 2012, in June the legal work was completed and Project Yechi became a reality.
Project Yechi has fulfilled Chaim’s dream beyond what anyone imagined. To date, it has distributed over $1.3 million, to 270 families and 1400 rents and mortgages nationally and in Israel, and it continues to grow.
“This all came from Chaim. It was his idea and has grown so much,” said Sarah Lerer, Chaim’s cousin and part of the Project Yechi volunteer board. “As much money as we can raise, it can be distributed in a second; there is such a need,” she said. As more and more people hear about Project Yechi, the need for funds increases as well.
Project Yechi and the extended Feigenbaum family attribute much of the success to everyone’s generous response. Each fall, they hold an annual fundraiser barbecue that is eagerly anticipated by the community. Project Yechi also has a large inventory of exquisite luxury tablecloths that are rented out for a nominal fee, and is a source of income throughout the year. While other donations periodically arrive through individual contributions and matching funds, this event is the main fundraiser for the entire year, supplying much of the funds used to support families. “We don’t charge any admission for the event, because we want everyone to feel like they can come,” Lerer said. The event is also sponsored so that every penny raised that night goes straight to the rents and mortgages, with the hope that people will continue to give generously, as they have in
Project Yechi, its reach and the community’s response have grown each year and it is able to help more families than ever. Those directly involved in the organization know the difference Project Yechi is making in people’s lives. As one family wrote in a recent letter to the organization, “It is a constant worry for me how I will pay the rent. You have helped me immensely.” Another recipient had similar sentiments and wrote, “Please know how much weight you are lifting off our family…it gives the space to breathe and concentrate better with less stress.”
The need continues to grow, and this year’s barbecue looks to surpass previous years’ responses. Last year encompassed a range of emotions as the famous Jewish performer Lipa Schmeltzer performed and dazzled the crowd, while the Feigenbaum family touched everyone’s hearts and spoke of the meaning behind so much of what they do, and how extensive Yechi’s reach has become. “Project Yechi is truly a labor of love for the family.”
Please join Project Yechi and the north Jersey community on Saturday night, motzei Shabbat, October 13, at 9 p.m. at Keter Torah (600 Roemer Avenue in Teaneck) for another heartfelt evening where friends can come together for a delicious motzei Shabbat barbecue as they also join to support the growing need for Project Yechi’s unique financial assistance.
By Jenny Gans