Cleveland Foundation Awards HFLA $35,000 Grant for Capacity Building


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - October 20, 2015

The Cleveland Foundation Awards $35,000 grant to HFLA

The Cleveland Foundation awarded a $35,000 grant to the HFLA of Northeast Ohio to expand its interest-free lending program for Northeast Ohioans.

HFLA’s pace of lending more than doubled from 2014 to this year. The organization has seen growing demand for loans to help clients escape from predatory loans, advance careers through education and the ability to secure vehicles to have transportation for jobs.

Founded in 1904, HFLA supports Northeast Ohioans with a genuine need and the ability repay but no access to conventional funding. With a repayment rate over 97%, the funds lent out are repaid and re-lent over generations.

The grant from the Cleveland Foundation will enable HFLA to invest in loan software and staffing to continue to increase the volume of new loans and manage existing ones.

“The Cleveland Foundation is pleased that our grant will enhance HFLA’s ability to provide interest-free lending options to our community’s most vulnerable residents,” said Kathleen Hallissey, Director of Community Responsive Grantmaking at the Cleveland Foundation.

Over 111 years, HFLA has provided over 26,000 interest free loans in response to the diverse needs of capable and able people without access to capital.

While the local economy has improved, there are still individuals who need support from the Hebrew Free Loan Association. Though the name of the organization reflects its Jewish heritage and ideals, loans are made to individuals on a non-sectarian basis.

Lending interest free since 1904

If you would like more information about this topic, please contact Michal Marcus at 216-378-9042 or email at

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100 Years of Free Loans History (Download)

For the 110th anniversary of the Hebrew Free Loan of Cleveland, a historian pored through our past and created HFLA 100 Years (pdf).

This remarkable document begins with the history of Free Loans in the Jewish faith. It goes on to the founding of the HFLA in 1904 with $501 in donations. The mission: to lend a helping hand to help new immigrants get established. 

What was the purpose of these early loans? In 1909, it was as follows:

  • Peddling and huckstering - 288 loans
  • Renting/purchasing hoses and/or wagons - 86 loans
  • Supply stores or stands [pushcarts] - 119 loans
  • Start a business - 42 loans
  • Emigration purposes - 62 loans
  • Hire carpenter and/or painters - 42 loans
  • Tools for mechanics - 42 loans
  • Tuition for students - 43 loans
(Interesting fact: peddling meant selling door-to-door while huckstering meant conducting business directly from a horse-drawn wagon.)
The document goes on to trace the ebbs and flows of the organization for the rest of its first 100 years. Enjoy!

Feren Remembers 1929 to 1932

My father was a wholesale distributor of three specialty produce items, each of which was sold at a different seasonal watermelons in the summer through September, wine grapes in October and Christmas trees in December. The summer of 1929 was so chilly that people didn't buy our freight train carloads of watermelons. The economy was so lousy that the Slovenian, Hungarian, Italian and German factory workers weren't buying their usual enormous quantities of wine grapes and a major snowstorm in Canada prevented the Christmas trees from being shipped on time. Prices skyrocketed and demand fell.

Remember that in those days there were no nursery trees grown and that Cleveland Jews had a near monopoly on the area'™s Christmas tree markets!
We faced a long, hard winter after Christmas 1929 with no money coming in and a Great Depression with hundreds of thousands standing in soup lines. Only factory workers had any steady income.

There was no Social Security, no unemployment insurance, no minimum wage, no guarantees of back wages being paid, no Medicare.
Like so many others, my parents turned to The Hebrew Free Loan Association but it insisted upon collateral. My mother gave her wedding ring so that we would literally have food on the table. This turned into a twice yearly occurrence in early winter and late spring for the next several years. When produce sales were good my mother would pay off the loan and retrieve her ring. During these years, her ring spent more time in the HFLA safe than on her finger!

When I think back to those times, I always wonder how my mother felt every time she had to give up her ring. The mere thought of this story makes me want to tell it over and over again because it was so meaningful in my life. It is a story I don'™t want to forget. HFLA returned her ring each time knowing its personal significance, and that HFLA had permitted my mother and our family to maintain our dignity.

€œ(Nowadays, HFLA no longer accepts jewelry as collateral.)