First, Martha Barvin formulated a list of Jewish-owned restaurants that she sent to friends and family.
Then, the idea evolved when Like Minds Communications founder Jenny Gustafson got a hold of the list, according to the program’s website, from just supporting businesses to supporting Jews facing financial impact from COVID-19.
Gustafson and her partner, Melina Soroka, pooled resources from Like Minds Communications with two other marketing agencies, Integrate Agency and Tippit & Moo, and Mensch Out was born.
“'Why don’t we put a community partnership spin on this?'” Soroka recalled asking in those initial conversations. “'How can we leverage this to help the broader community?'”
Throughout the month of May, over 100 Jewish businesses in Greater Houston pledged to donate between 5-15% of their total sales every Monday to the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston and the Houston Jewish Community Foundation's COVID-19 Emergency Appeal.
The Emergency Appeal was formed through a partnership between the two Jewish organizations, which focuses on providing urgent basic needs to individuals and families, support community organizations, and help ensure the continuity and viability of Jewish life in Houston, according to the Jewish Federation website.
One of those businesses listed is bar Eighteen36, which shares a building with restaurant Roadster Grill at 2221 W. Alabama St., Houston, and which has been donating 15% of its sales.
“When you help your community, your community helps you,” Eighteen36 owner Jason Scheinthal “You have a responsibility to give money out to the community that supports you.”
The idea Scheinthal touched on is the Jewish idea of "tzedakah," a Hebrew word meaning “charitable giving,” Soroka said.
A large reason for the program’s importance, Scheinthal said, is because people who are tight on cash during the pandemic have not been able to give out their monthly contributions to the organizations.
“One of the things lost in this is that charities are suffering—the charities that support individuals in need,” Scheinthal said. “We talk a lot about how this affects our world—[businesses]—but donations are down, and it’s something we need to talk about more and emphasize more.”
Like Eighteen36, which has seen a dip in sales because of the pandemic, event planning and styling company Gem Events has faced similar hardships, owner Meg Grossman said.
“Being a business owner has been challenging,” Grossman said. “However, it’s given me an opportunity to evolve my business.”
A couple of examples include that Gem Events adapted to support Zoom parties and to provide large balloon garland installations.
The exposure Gem Events gained from donating to the Mensch Out program has also helped.
“I just love that the agencies are working together during this time and just supporting local Jewish Houstonians,” Grossman said. “Industries, including mine, have been impacted, and bringing any awareness during this time is a godsend.”
It is unclear if the program will continue into future months, though it is being considered, Soroka said, and will be revisited with participating businesses.