Freeze of 2021
By Deb Silverthorn
Dallas’ Jewish organizations reached out to one another in the wake of Winter Storms Uri and Viola, offering everything from pop-up day camp to home repair loans to drive-thru food distributions.
“Doors have been opened — from friends and family to one another, from strangers, and from our synagogues and other facilities,” said Mariam Shpeen Feist, president and CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas. “We are all here for anyone in need.”
Needs assessment: Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas
The Federation spent the week connecting with agencies and residents. “We have the best community and our people — our residents, our agencies and our Federation — are all here helping one another,” said Shpeen Feist.
The Federation and Dallas Jewish Community Foundation supported a children’s program of the Jewish Learning Center of Dallas; The Rohr Chabad Jewish Student Center at the University of Texas at Austin, which suffered broken pipes and endured flooding; and the meal program organized by Kosher Palate, which ultimately served more than 5,000 meals.
Led by its Health Crisis Management Team of community organizational and agency leadership, the Federation distributed a Winter Storm Community Intake Form, to assess needs caused by the two storms. It is monitored Monday through Friday and issues are being triaged as they are received.
“In the last 15 months we’ve weathered a tornado, a pandemic and now these serious weather conditions but people have pulled together,” said Feist. “We will always pivot and respond and this too shall pass.”
To receive a survey, or for more information on support, visit jewishdallas.org or call 214-369-3313.
A haven for students: Jewish Learning Center of Dallas
With schools out for safety, some because of outages and damage from the storm, Hudy and Rabbi Shlomo Abrams of the Jewish Learning Center of Dallas opened their doors to children from the community. Baking and blessings, learning and laughter and lunch with friends provided warmth for a few hours each day.
“The weather was severe, so many families were affected, and with the schools closed we wanted to help,” said Rabbi Abrams, who ran the program from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. with Rabbi Menachem Ziemba. Some teachers from Torah Day School of Dallas and students of Mesorah High School for Girls donated their time, too. “Many of the parents in the area needed to have time to reach repairmen or insurance companies and this gave [them] a little break to be able to focus on that.”
The program served 35 on Tuesday, 55 on Wednesday, nearly 70 on Thursday and 55 on Friday. Children were ages 3 to 13 and came together for lunch and activities from Akiba Yavneh and Levine academies, Torah Day School and neighborhood public schools.
Larry Shafron donated 10 pizzas from Midtown Pizza. Sharon Kabelio, Midtown Pizza’s owner, contributed french fries for Friday’s Shabbat-themed program. Hudy Abrams made four pots of chicken soup which were accompanied by rolls baked by students of Mesorah.
“The kids were staying with my in-laws, who had power,” said Tova Schwed, whose own home was without power for several days, the family’s furnace not working and repairs needed for a burst water pipe. Schwed managed calls for the household repairs while her husband, Matt, a pediatric dentist, was able to see a couple of emergency patients. “A dance party, baking, story time and all of the activities were a welcome distraction and a blessed gift.”
Three of the Schweds’ children — Ephraim, Koby and Neima — were kept engaged and entertained at JLC. “It was good to be with friends. We learned about Purim and the parasha of the week; the food was delicious,” said Ephraim, 12, who offered a thumbs-up shoutout for rolls baked by the high school girls.
“We have 5,000 square feet of space that was warm and lit,” said Rabbi Abrams, “Last week, that was a blessing, and a commodity.”
Back on their feet: Dallas Hebrew Free Loan Association
Leadership at the Dallas Hebrew Free Loan Association is providing a helping hand to those in need of emergency funds. With thousands experiencing emergency repairs, some needing respite housing and other necessities, the agency has emergency loans of $500, general loans of up to $7,500 and business loans to $20,000. Provided to support the costs of deductibles or other incidentals, the money can be used for any storm-related expense.
“We expect there will be many people out-of-pocket, unexpectedly, and we are here to help; we hope people will call on us,” said the organization’s president, David Kronick. “There were already so many dealing with financial issues due to the pandemic. For those who are unemployed, dealing with medical issues or otherwise financially impacted, and now having to deal with repairs, we are here.”
In the first 48 hours of the winter storm crisis, two emergency loans were requested and funded in less than 12 hours and another two loans, of up to $7,500, were received and in process.
The free loan association hopes to prevent prospective borrowers from maxing out on interest-bearing credit cards or making withdrawals from retirement accounts. The organization is proud of its near-100% repayment rate. Repayment arrangements for the interest-free loans allow flexible repayment plans, with each situation evaluated on its own merit.
In addition to loans to aid in the weather-related crisis, the agency offers loans for adoption and fertility, general assistance, health care, higher education, Jewish experiences, small business and special needs support.
Loans of $500 do not require a guarantor, while higher amounts may require one or more. For borrowers who do not have anyone to support their loan, DHFLA has supporters offering to step in.
“We have angels in our wings ready to help; we are a bridge of support just waiting to lend a hand and the money people need,” said Director Jane Larkin. “We are a social lender — a cross between a financial institution and social service — and we just want to help people get to a better place.”
For information, or to apply for emergency or other loans, visit dhfla.org or call 469-206-1639.
Jewish Family Service
Reaching 1 million meals served just before the weather crisis, Jewish Family Service remained in action last week, off-site but never off the clock.
Last week, with the weekly food distribution program interrupted, JFS supported families with Walmart and Home Depot gift cards. On Monday, more than 1,000 individuals received additional food via drive-thru access at the agency headquarters in Far North Dallas, with support of the North Texas Food Bank and Hello Fresh meal kit delivery service, which provided multiple meal kits to each family.
For those already struggling with self-sufficiency, losing food due to extended power outages or dealing with expenses associated with burst pipes can be overwhelming. As always, JFS is available to help anyone in need with food and emergency assistance, counseling, information referrals and more.
“It was the start of a new week after all our city and state went through and so much for so many to cope with,” JFS CEO and President Cathy Barker said on Monday. “I am grateful we could be back to helping our community, in-person while socially distanced, and our entire team is here to help.”
JFS’ regular drive-thru food distribution will return, from 9 a.m. to noon on Thursday, Feb. 25, at 5402 Arapaho Road for anyone in need of food assistance.
Making room for friends: CHAI
Residents of the Community Homes for Adults, Inc.’s Bauer, Toub and Yale homes made the sweetest lemonade of last week’s weather-related lemons.
While a few residents moved in with family members, nine others created a slumber party of sorts, temporarily moving in to share the Levy 1, Levy 2 and Todd residences. Three staff members moved along with the residents, keeping the comfort level and the ratio of support intact, also avoiding the need for anyone to be driving in the inclement weather.
“Each of the homes took the food they had in stock and moved it along with their people, so nothing was lost,” said CHAI CEO Lisa Brodsky. “Our residents and our staff have all had their first and second vaccines so, with regard to COVID-19, our concerns were relieved about coming together. For many of these residents it was the first time they were with friends they used to spend a lot of time with.”
Movie nights, dance parties and marathon game play amused the residents, all of whom were happy to be reunited with friends. All residents were back in their own homes, none of which sustained any damage, before Shabbat, with only memories made.
“It was a moment to act, then think about it,” said Brodsky. “Our first interest is everyone’s safety and security and it was all a success.”