According to the Jewish magazine "Trudovaya Pomosch", or "Labor Aid", in the early 20th century one fifth of Russian Jews depended on charity. Besides new charitable organizations which, like OPE and ORT, received huge donations, traditional centuries-old forms of charity still existed in the Jewish community. The lists of donors for various charitable purposes number hundreds of names.
These purposes included purchase of matzoth for the poor, aid to needy Jewish girls, provision of clothes etc. The Society for Relief for Poor Jews and later the Society for the Care of Children of Poor Jews of the Peski District were founded in the early 20th century. The Jewish community ran two almshouses, a small one at the Preobrazhenskoye cemetery and the other at 50, 5th line on Vassilyevsky Island.
The first orphanage was founded by a soldiers' community as early as the late 1830s, presumably in the Kryukov barracks. The new community leadership formed a ladies' trustee commission with Horace Gunzburg's wife Anna Isayevna, at its head, who purchased a plot of land with a little garden for a new orphanage. The orphanage had a school and a prayer room - the only one permitted in Petersburg by the authorities during the period from 1894 to 1904 (after a petition submitted by the ladies' trustee commission). However, according to the regulations, nobody except the wards and their teachers were admitted to it.
An inexpensive Jewish people's canteen was opened in St. Petersburg as early as 1879. Later, the "Building of Jewish People's Bathhouses and Canteens" was constructed to the design of architect Girshovich on the Yekaterininsky Canal. In this building, mikvas were located on the ground-floor and the canteen was on the first floor. Dinners cost 10-30 kopecks and were sold at a discount of 15 to 40%, depending on the dishes. Jewish soldiers were given free dinners on Fridays and Saturdays. The canteen operated under the patronage of the ladies' trustee commission headed by Mathilda Gunzburg (wife of David Gunzburg).
The Society for Relief for Poor Jews (OBP) was founded in 1907. Before that, two societies accountable to the synagogue board each spent up to 3 thousand rubles a year on these purposes. OBP pooled the charity funds in order to spread out aid to the needy. The society board included all community leaders and Horace Gunzburg was elected its chairman. OBP granted pensions to old people and lump-sum allowances to the needy. By agreement with the Society, 20 pharmacies sold medicines to needy Jews at reduced prices. Impecunious Jews from other cities were helped to return home. Aid was also provided for jailed Jews.
Another form of charity was distribution of specially donated funds before holidays. Not everyone was happy with the way this was done. For example, a retired barber, a private of the Kazan infantry regiment, Haim Droznikov, complained to the Interior Minister that "the old prayer places were closed after the new synagogue was opened; only those who donated 25 rubles a year for the synagogue were allowed to pray there, while retired soldiers, unable to donate more than 3 rubles, had to do so in the cellar. Formerly, the wardens of prayer places knew each Jew and would distribute alms themselves. Now, women came for alms and it was the porter who decided if they should be allowed in. During the last dispensation, some got one ruble and a half, some as many as 5 rubles, while Droznikov's wife got nothing. Community funds were being spent in vain, for example, on the synagogue school where children do not learn anyway and only fool around - to observe this, one just has to look into the synagogue yard. If the minister has any doubts, he can make certain of that." Such complaints reflected dissatisfaction of members of the old soldiers' communities who could not adapt themselves to the new order.
A beggar. I. Pen