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Jewish charity to launch microloans for Gulf Coast.

A Jewish charity has launched an online campaign to use small loans to help the Gulf Coast's struggling businesses recover three years after Hurricane Katrina devastated the region.

Jewish Funds for Justice's 8th Degree campaign, named for Jewish medieval philosopher Maimonides' term for the highest form of charity, began Aug. 29. It is modeled on similar microlending programs aimed at helping entrepreneurs in the developing world.

Loans from $5,000 to $15,000 will be distributed through the New Orleans-based ASI Federal Credit Union.

Among government programs and nonprofit efforts to rebuild the Gulf Coast region's economy, the 8th Degree program is unique because donors can track each borrower's progress on the Internet, organizers said.

According to a 2007 report published by the Institute for Southern Studies, up to 25 percent of New Orleans stores and restaurants remain closed after Katrina, and many that reopened are still not operating at pre-storm capacity. Campaign organizers are asking members of the Jewish community to donate any amount they can to improve these findings; Jewish Funds for Justice will match every dollar raised toward the first five loans.

"The truth is that a loan as small as $5,000, made possible by donors who give $5, $50 or $500, can make a critical difference in a person's life and help move them solidly into this country's middle class," said Simon Greer, president of Jewish Funds for Justice.

As each loan is repaid, generally within seven years with an 8 percent interest rate, the money will be reinvested into other small business initiatives.

"There is no doubt a long road ahead in rebuilding the Gulf Coast, and the 8th Degree is only a single step along the way, but as Jewish tradition teaches, though we are not obliged to complete the task, neither are we free to desist from it," Greer said.

--Religion News Service
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Title Annotation:IN THE BEGINNING
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Brief article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 5, 2008
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