The mitzvah network
By Deb Silverthorn
Television, social media and internet reports of who needed what helped connect Dallas’ Jewish community to those in need during last week’s winter storm. Among the many stepping forward was Danielle Rugoff, who spent the week helping others find comfort and warmth.
Rugoff was first touched when she saw her mailman making deliveries in uniform in the U.S. Postal Service’s open-sided mail truck. She offered some warmth in the way of a scarf, a hot drink and a masked-up and socially distanced few minutes in her home.
She then saw a report that Dallas City Council Member Cara Mendelsohn had arranged for a mobile warming center to serve many in the 75287 ZIP code, where 13,500 Oncor customers were without power. The warming bus provided haven, powering stations and snacks, including pizzas provided by Rugoff and her husband, Rabbi David Singer. Mendelsohn, who drove from apartment complex to complex, determining the needs of her constituents, dropped off some of the pizzas and groceries.
“It takes a village. Our firemen, already busy with emergency calls, opened the station and police manned a jug-filling station so people could have water,” said Mendelsohn. “So many ways, so many people made a difference.”
The Rugoff-Singer home was intact through the severe weather, and she was online when she saw a report of the devastation that affected both the Annette Strauss Family Gateway Center and Genesis Women’s Shelter & Support.
Through rolling outages, pipes bursting and flooding, Genesis Shelter had to close its doors for the first time in 35 years. It lost every bit of food in its refrigerators and freezers as well as many furnishings and flooring, and sustained structural damage that is expected to take four or more months to repair.
“I can’t imagine the bravery it takes to have to leave your home and then this week have the shelter,” said Rugoff, “your island of safety, become part of the sea of chaos.”
Rugoff had received $6,000 from community donors and a needs list from Genesis that included blankets and sheet sets, cleaning products and food supplies. The couple and their neighbors, Morgan and Nick Kubala and Ben Wilson, hit the aisles at Costco, Marshall’s and Target, filling numerous carts and four SUVs. Additional items were ordered and shared through Amazon.
“Danielle had an army and in 24 hours she came through with the first of many wonderful donations,” said Genesis Women’s Shelter & Support Volunteer Manager Lottie Price. Over the weekend, the shelter received support from around the world, and the agency’s 87 women and children moved to alternate accommodations. “You can lose a lot, it can feel like everything, but you can never lose gratitude,” she said.
Not ready to stop, Rugoff called Jeffrey Kollinger, owner of The Spice of Life Catering. The two worked with Mendelsohn and a match was made to serve 100 meals to Genesis and another 200 to Family Gateway.
“We cooked pasta and vegetables, 150 pounds of ground beef and 100 pounds of flank steak,” said Kollinger. “We had really delicious food and a great team, and we were thrilled to be able to provide.”
The meals were a welcome gift to those at Family Gateway, which sustained only a minor leak. The organization provides emergency shelter and supportive services to families with children experiencing homelessness. They were able to operate as usual last week and helped fill in gaps in the city’s homeless response system.
“We serve three meals a day, seven days a week, and the meals were more than appreciated,” said Kendall Brown, the organization’s director of marketing and youth engagement. Currently, Family Gateway is supporting 61 families, including 67 adults and 130 children, in their emergency shelter and overflow program. “We are anticipating an increased need in the weeks to come as families look to recover from the storm’s impact. Family Gateway stands at the ready to always help those in our emergency response system.”
Rugoff has held leadership roles at AIPAC and Hillel International and led her mentor Florence Shapiro’s U.S. Senate campaign. She is a member of Dallas’ Mayor Star Council, director of expansion for Gen Next and director of Venture Philanthropy for the Gen Next Foundation, so reaching others is clearly part of her profession and passion.
“This weekend was a reaffirmation of the goodness of humanity,” said Rugoff, who took to social media to request followers share in the mitzvah spirit, with $2, 20 minutes or whatever they had to share. “If you invite people to join you in doing good, they’ll answer. This community is unbelievable.”
Anyone wishing to participate in the giving of Danielle Rugoff can email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sidebar: Care with a click
By Deb Silverthorn
Four Facebook groups connecting the Jewish community last week were Dallas Jewish Moms, Young Dallas Jewish Moms, Kosher Deals in Dallas and Mitzvah Connections.
For Kim Kamen, the members of the Mitzvah Connections group chimed in and stepped up when she posted that, while her own family was in the process of recovering from lost power and flooding, she wanted to seek out support for a stranger.
Kamen first reached out to her synagogue, Congregation Anshai Torah, to find out what they needed following a flood in their kitchen. After dropping off a fan to help with the drying-out process, she connected to Associate Pastor Julian McMillian of Grace Outreach Center in Plano. Kamen, associate director of regional offices for the American Jewish Committee and a wholehearted volunteer for many organizations, is rooted in tikkun olam, and saw last week’s freeze as an opportunity to help out.
Kamen was told of a woman who was alone, disabled, recently homeless and just released from a hospital. Staying at a hotel in Plano, the woman had a skillet, small refrigerator and a microwave but nothing to eat. Receiving disability checks is how the woman manages but until March 3, she’d be hungry.
In just a few hours, Mitzvah Connections members had delivered myriad items (cleaning supplies, paper goods, food) and a hot meal donated by Kamen’s neighbor. The grateful recipient assured Kamen that once she was back on her feet — literally as she is now using a walker — she was determined to return to providing for herself.
“The response to help someone that no one knew, sight unseen, was incredible,” said Kamen, who couldn’t accept all that was offered to her. “So many people wanted to make a difference, and together, we did just that.”