Jewish community answers call for supplies, helps victims of Hurricane Harvey
By Sharon Wisch-Ray
The numbers were staggering. This time not the destruction left in Hurricane Harvey’s wake, but the number of donations that flooded the Aaron Family JCC last week after a clarion call for needed items on social media went viral.
On Friday — only 48 hours after Jewish Federation of North America’s (JFNA) Young Leadership Cabinet Chair Michelle Stein Hirsch created an Amazon Prime wishlist — about $35,000 in goods, some 16,000 items — had been delivered to the J.
National Young Leadership Cabinet (NYLC), a program of JFNA, grooms future Jewish community leaders ages 35-45. The current cohort is 400 strong and the program has been in existence more than 50 years. Dallas has 19 members.
Hirsch, of Cleveland, Ohio, spearheaded the project. She explained to the TJP Tuesday that when everything happened with Houston she noticed that on the NYLC Facebook page and other social media sites people were furiously posting and wondering about ways to help.
“Everyone wanted to do something but no one knew what to do,” she said. “Our cabinet members from Houston started posting on the Facebook page, items that would be needed. There was so much stuff.”
Hirsch brainstormed with Houston NYLC members Jonathan Wasserberg and Natalie Lepow and Dallas NYLC members Steven Davidoff and Jonathan Rubenstein. They came up with the idea of drop-shipping the items to the Dallas JCC since Dallas has a large Amazon distribution center and is only a four-hour drive to Houston.
Hirsch culled needed items from various social media sites and created the wishlist. “It seemed the easiest and most functional thing to do,” she said. At 11 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 29, she posted the wishlist to her personal Facebook page and the NYLC Facebook page. By morning, 150 items had already been purchased. “People started sharing it like wildfire. There were people I didn’t even know who were buying items off the wishlist to be sent to the JCC,” Hirsch said.
Initially the plan was for Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas CEO Bradley Laye and Aaron Family JCC CEO Artie Allen to drive a rented Penske truck with the donations to Houston’s JCC. However, that plan was quickly scrapped as the volume of the donations mounted rapidly between the Amazon wishlist items and donations from the Dallas Jewish community at large.
As the items began to fill one room at the JCC and take over another, Laye and Allen realized that they needed a new plan.
“On Tuesday we started with a 16-foot Penske that we had pre-arranged and then when we saw the volume of stuff coming we called on some friends,” said Laye.
Within 30 hours Harold Gernsbacher had arranged for a 53-foot tractor-trailer to truck the items down to Houston on Sunday. Gernsbacher, a national board member of JFNA and an officer of the Dallas Federation, is the CEO of Fort Worth-based Chain Link Services.
“I’d like to allow people to continue to make donations and we’ll continue to find trucks,” said Gernsbacher. “We’ll see how they’re doing down there and be here if they need us.”
Artie Allen was happy that the JCC could be a hub for donations and able to coordinate significant donations from other Jewish organizations and the Jewish community.
“The JCC went to JFS and worked with JFS and our new J on Wheels program and we picked up items and brought them back here so we could put them on the vehicle to take to Houston,” he explained.
About 30 volunteers arrived at 7:30 a.m. Sunday to load the tractor-trailer. After about an hour and a half, the two trucks were ready to head out.
“Houston is our neighbor and we are very, very concerned about what’s happening in Houston and the surrounding areas,” Allen added. “We are just happy that the Jewish community came together and made this happen. It’s really going to be amazing to take this big rig and this Penske truck down there and deliver much-needed items to them.”
“It shows the power of one Jew talking to another Jew to help a third Jew. It’s just unbelievable how this worked,” Hirsch said.
Kosher meals for Texas Coast
The Dallas Jewish community’s efforts to assist the Houston Jewish community are ongoing. With Federation financial support, Dallas Kosher and three local kosher catering companies have provided some 1,000 kosher meals a day to the Houston Jewish community since. Lowell Michelson’s Simcha Kosher Catering covered last Shabbat. Howard Goldfeder brought his Kosher Texas BBQ to Houston beginning Sunday and Ceci Katz and Ruthie Henkin’s Taste of the World catering will cover the upcoming Shabbat. “Baruch Hashem, I have the skill set. I have the equipment. I’ve made the time to come down here,” Goldfeder told the Jewish Herald Voice. “This is what we’re supposed to do right now — it’s what we have to do.”
He added, “Our goal, here, is to make people feel whole again. Good food can be a great cure-all.”
Due to flooding and Hurricane Harvey, there is a kosher food shortage in the Houston area that continued at press time Tuesday. A refrigerated truck donated by Stevens Transport and the Aaron family got the first round meals to Houtson. The truck will remain on-site in Houston to accept donations of kosher food from around the country and support the project.