A teenage boy wanted to make a difference in someone’s day, so nonprofit The Blue Card connected him with an 85-year-old homebound Holocaust survivor who happened to be craving herring. Decked in personal protective equipment and trudging through the rain, the boy showed up at the survivor’s door with herring for her stomach and a smile for her heart.
This is just one example of the work The Blue Card is doing for survivors during the pandemic.
Founded in 1934, The Blue Card exists to provide financial assistance to impoverished Holocaust survivors.
“What I love is that we have an incredible and time-limited mission of helping Holocaust survivors at poverty level who suffered so much already, just providing resources every day to those in need throughout the country,” said Masha Pearl, executive director of The Blue Card, who has been with the organization for more than a decade.
The Blue Card serves 35 states — 50 households within Baltimore alone (each which can contain more than one survivor). The organization offers cash assistance to them for one-time things like hearing aids and dental or emergency services, as well as ongoing monthly assistance for utilities and housing.
Most recently, The Blue Card is adding emotional wellbeing services to help survivors cope with the pandemic.
“Survivors are scared to go to the doctor’s or to get COVID tests,” Pearl said. “Back during the war, illness meant death. It meant they’re no longer able to work.”
Survivors can also face PTSD when they feel trapped in their homes during quarantine.
“To combat that, we are working with a number of providers to help take their fears away,” Pearl said. “It’s important to keep checking in on them, making sure they don’t feel forgotten and let them know it will all get better soon.”
To accomplish this, The Blue Card now provides teleconferences with experts in trauma, offered in four languages, through their website.
The Blue Card also has virtual volunteering opportunities. Those interested can record a one-minute tribute to boost survivors’ spirits. Some volunteers sing songs, read passages or get more creative. More information can be found at BlueCardFund.org/virtual-volunteering.html.
Another challenge survivors face in the pandemic is the risk of falls. With fewer visitors, less home care and less outdoor activities comes more time spent in risk at home. To combat this, The Blue Card increased its Telephone Emergency Response System. This is a button for those who fall and need an ambulance immediately. Though the fund has been ongoing, it is particularly in demand now, so The Blue Card added Wi-Fi capability, a GPS (also for lost dementia patients), and a fall detector.
One recipient of The Blue Card’s services is a local Holocaust survivor, Miriam (who preferred not to give her last name).
Miriam was referred to The Blue Card two years ago because of health concerns. The organization gave her the Personal Emergency Response System and food cards.
These acts of service have meant a lot to her as she struggles through quarantine living alone.
“It was very scary at the beginning, of course it brings memories of the childhood when we left the country and we escaped to Uzbekistan,” Miriam said. “Who knows what the next day will be, or if we will have anything. All my life I live with this fear of something [going to] happen. There’s this recollection of traumatic experiences. In March it became more effective.”
She stocked up on foods like oatmeal, nonperishables and milk, expecting to starve again.
Now that the pandemic has been normalized, Miriam distracts herself with books, Sudoku and the community. “I’m in love with Pikesville, I am very happy and comfortable and feel surrounded by Jews and survivors. It is like Israel,” she said. She expressed gratitude to the country and The Blue Card for its help.
As the organization looks ahead to the new year, The Blue Card will continue to expand virtual programming and increase technology.
Pearl hopes people remember that the youngest survivors are in their 80s. Their oldest client is 106.
“The number of survivors is decreasing,” she said. “The time to help is now.”