American Baptist, Jewish Groups Launch Interfaith Disaster Fund

Six faith-based organizations have partnered to launch what is believed to be the first interfaith fund for long-term domestic disaster recovery.

The American Baptist Churches USA in collaboration with the Jewish Funds for Justice; Catholic groups CHRISTUS Health, Highland Good Steward Management, Jesuits of the New Orleans Province; and the Mennonite group MMA Community Development Investments launched The Isaiah Funds on Wednesday.

The Isaiah Funds will provide a Redevelopment Loan Fund and an Access to Capital Grants Fund that initially will be directed toward recovery in low income Gulf Coast communities. The funds will be invested in affordable housing projects, help small businesses get back on their feet, and support the development of community centers, according to American Baptist news service.

"People of faith are called to play a unique and critical role in addressing the chronic needs of our society," says Michaele Birdsall, ABCUSA National Ministries' treasurer and chief financial officer, to ABNS.

"More than two years after hurricanes Katrina and Rita, I am still struck by the level of devastation that continues in New Orleans," she said. "Not only the devastation of buildings and infrastructure, but also the devastation of lives, families and communities."

Partners in The Isaiah Funds aim to build up the program to $10 million for loans and $1 million for grants with the help of foundations and faith-based institutions by the end of 2009. There is currently $4.5 million that has already been raised.

Gulf Coast Housing Partnership – which has completed some 600 units of affordable housing since the storm and is working on an additional 500 units – will receive the first loan of $500,000.

The name Isaiah Funds was inspired by the words of the Old Testament prophet – "You will restore the age-old foundations and be called repairer of the breach, restorer of the streets in which to dwell." (Isaiah 58:12)

It credits its roots to the Katrina Investment Response Team at the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) in New York City.