$1 million in a FedEx envelope leads Mazon to a surprise donor (eJewishPhilanthropy)
This article originally appeared in eJewishPhilanthropy on January 31, 2022.
Most nonprofit executives probably dream of walking into their offices and finding $1 million lying around. For the leadership of Mazon, a Jewish group combating hunger in the U.S. and Israel, that dream literally came true.
The unexpected windfall came this summer in a FedEx envelope to the group’s Los Angeles office. When CEO Abby Leibman opened the package, she found a letter from a lawyer saying Mazon had received a $1 million bequest from the estate of Alfred Reich, a Scranton, Pa., accountant who had died in May 2021 at 95.
That discovery set off a detective search at the nonprofit, whose full name is Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger. “Had he ever donated to Mazon? Had we had any contact with him?” Naama Haviv, the group’s vice president of community engagement, told eJewishPhilanthropy. “The answer was no. During his lifetime, he hadn’t made any gift to Mazon.”
Mazon staff then contacted Reich’s estate lawyer and did some Googling. That led them to Beth Shalom Congregation in Scranton, Reich’s longtime synagogue, and subsequently to two close friends. Reich was not married and had no living relatives. He had one request of Mazon: Because he had no one to mourn him, he asked the employees to say Kaddish for him. Haviv and Leibman did so the next Shabbat in synagogue.
So what led him to Mazon? Reich’s friends and neighbors told the organization that generosity defined their newest donor: He built a successful accounting practice but lived frugally. He gave of his time and money to local charities during his lifetime, and that commitment continued after his death. The donation was one of many he made — including to a range of local Pennsylvania Jewish groups — in his will.
A close friend of Reich’s, Harris Cutler, wrote in an email to Mazon that Reich always refused to be honored for his charitable giving. Cutler recalled that Reich would say, “I am never about public accolades. I do my things privately. I never was after fame. I only wanted to do what is right and bring honor to my parents.”
“He was very much concerned about poor people unable to provide food for themselves and their families,” another close friend, Rabbi Samuel Sandhaus, wrote in a tribute to Reich after his death. “While he appeared very officious and all business, he had a deep concern for the welfare of others.”
Since Reich’s donations came to light, more details of his life have emerged. According to an obituary, he was a lifelong resident of the Scranton area who dropped out of college to enlist in the U.S. Army Signal Corps during World War II, based in Calcutta. After he got home, he became a CPA and opened his own practice. He would vacation at Jewish resorts in the Catskills and, later, Miami Beach.
“Many families in Northeast Pennsylvania were blessed to have Alfred involved in their accounting and business planning. Alfred lived a wonderful life, never spoiling himself with material goods but very quietly sharing all he had to help others,” read the obituary in the Scranton Times-Tribune.
Mazon hopes to sponsor an educational program in Scranton about hunger in America, dedicated to Reich’s memory. The money entered Mazon’s bank account this week, and the organization is going to use half of it for a matching grant in his name to mitigate hunger in populations the group says are overlooked, including veterans, older LGBTQ adults and single mothers.
In addition, $250,000 will go to the group’s work in Israel, another place where Reich gave charitable donations, and the remainder will be used for Mazon’s general expenses. The $1 million represents a significant increase to the group’s $7.9 million annual budget.
“We really want to keep this memory of him alive,” Haviv said. “He sounds like he was such an incredible, ethical, wonderful, beloved man. And I’m truly sorry that we didn’t get a chance to know him in his lifetime.”