Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Volunteers worked together loading the trucks with needed supplies.

Scores of volunteers came out to help sort items, pack boxes and load trucks.

On August 25, Hurricane Harvey devastated Houston, Texas, and the surrounding cities and communities. People were left stranded, homeless and terrified. The rainfall was unprecedented; the flooding was catastrophic. This storm was referred to as the “500-year storm.”

The devastation that Harvey left in its wake not only hit the local Texas communities, but has reverberated throughout the country, bringing out the best in America. We have all seen the photos of the damage the storm left behind, but we have also seen photos of people—complete strangers to Texas and each other—forming a human chain in order to rescue those trapped in the floodwaters. People from across the country have flown and driven to the area for one simple reason: to help those in need.

In our little corner of America, individuals, stores and organizations joined together to gather supplies to send to Jewish communities in the Houston area. The idea was the brainchild of Seasons supermarket, according to Suri Bender, one of the coordinators of this tremendous effort, but was a combined effort with the Orthodox Union, Amudim, Achiezer and Evergreen supermarket in Monsey. And, of course, the hundreds of people who donated, and also came out to help sort items, pack boxes and load trucks on Sunday night.

Bender said, “We had a list of items that they were requesting in Houston, things they couldn’t get their hands on. It was such a big list, and we wanted to make sure that we sent only what was needed, so we broke the list down and assigned certain locations to collect certain items.”

Locations in Brooklyn, Monsey, Clifton, Lakewood, Queens and other communities were designated as staging areas, with collections taken up in Seasons, and other area, parking lots. The group used a web-based inventory platform to keep track of everything in real time, and it didn’t take long for everything that was needed to be collected. The collections were taken on Thursday, Friday and Sunday, August 31, September 1 and September 3, and the goal was reached so early that they were able to close much sooner than expected.

“Amazing Savings shares a parking lot with Evergreen in Monsey, and once they heard what we were doing they were so generous, giving twice what was asked for. King Zak also gave so much. Such generosity,” noted Bender.

The next challenge was getting all of the donated items to Houston. The plan was to send everything by truck, but organizing the sorting and packing proved more complicated than anticipated. In stepped Boruch Schulgasser, who was coordinating collections in Clifton and happens to be a mover by trade.

“He was very generous. He helped out with truck coordination and logistics,” said Bender.

Schulgasser suggested that all of the trucks come to the Clifton warehouse to be loaded. “We have drivers driving them to Houston now,” Bender said on Monday evening. “And we have five or six volunteers who will be flying to meet the trucks to help unpack.”

The Evergreen location had been assigned to collect perishable items only, and they were all sent on a refrigerated truck. “The people in Houston are being served meals,” said Bender. “This food is just ‘grab and go’; it is stuff to easily cook in their homes, food that is easy to prepare.”

The Houston area is home to several Jewish communities, and approximately 400 Orthodox families lost their homes during Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath. “That’s who will be benefitting from this delivery,” added Bender.

Bender’s husband, Rabbi Boruch Bender, is the founder and president of Achiezer, an organization established in 2009 “at the behest of local rabbinic and community leaders who saw a need for change. These visionaries dreamed of creating one master organization, which would completely remove the burden of crisis management from the shoulders of shocked and distressed victims. They dreamed of an organization that would be there for the entire community—at any time, for any difficulty, large or small,” according to its website. Hurricane Sandy victims benefitted from Achiezer’s expertise, and now the victims of Hurricane Harvey are receiving similar assistance. Rabbi Bender is currently in Houston, bringing his experience to the recovery effort, along with countless others, many who will remain nameless. Their efforts at assistance, however, should not go unrecognized.

Kol hakavod, Rabbi Bender, Suri Bender, and so many others who gave, and will continue to give, their time to bring a small measure of comfort to the devastated Jewish communities in the Houston area. This, truly, is the best of America.

By Jill Kirsch