SOFIA, Bulgaria (JTA) — The stories – some months or years in the making — started trickling in last year. Young successful families were showing up desperate.
As Bulgaria’s program director for the American Joint Distribution Committee, Julia Dandalova ran social services programs for the Jewish community’s most needy: elderly pensioners and children of poorer families.
Now she was getting calls from people her own age: thirtysomethings with well-paying jobs, nice homes and cars. People she’d never imagined were struggling.
They told her they’d fallen behind on their mortgage payments and the bank was threatening to take back their homes and their leased cars. People who had everything were facing the abyss of poverty.
“These people are not used to coming to the community to ask for help,” Dandalova said. “What we found was that by the time they come to the community … it was already too late to help them.”
Three years ago, Sofia’s upper-middle-class Jews were thriving. They were mostly in their 30s and 40s, supporting themselves, their children and their aging parents.
When the global economic crisis hit, the bottom fell out not just for the poor but for those, who like so many colleagues in the West were living higher than their incomes with insupportable mortgages and debts. Oil and food prices skyrocketed along with unemployment. The real estate market collapsed. People lost their jobs and lives began to unravel.
This contingent of “new poor” in the Jewish community was startling; the very people that needed help the most were the ones having the most difficulty admitting it. Instead of seeking assistance, they used the last of their savings to keep up pretenses.