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Despite obstacles, remaining a lifeline for those in distress
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Despite obstacles, remaining a lifeline for those in distress

Staff Writer, New Jersey Jewish News

Lacking power and normal phone service, Jewish Family Service of MetroWest struggled to serve clients hit hard last week by Superstorm Sandy.

Despite the obstacles, the agency offered help to those in need of emergency services, including food cards, temporary housing, and assistance filling out FEMA applications — essential services for those living in the hard-hit communities of Hoboken, Bayonne, and Jersey City.

“The biggest issue has been our most vulnerable clients — people who generally struggle week to week, or who work hourly and if they don’t work there’s no money,” said Reuben Rotman, JFS’s executive director. “When they lose power for a week and have to throw all the food in their refrigerator away, they need help restocking the basics.”

The organization had power from a generator beginning Thursday following the storm, but the phone was dead. They were given a temporary line, but, as Rotman put it, “Nobody knows this phone number. We put it out via e-mail, but nobody had e-mail. We did get a few phone calls. Some people had e-mail, and some had it on their cell phones.”

It wasn’t until Tuesday afternoon, Nov. 6, that the agency got its regular line back.

Much of the early help they offered went to those needing emergency services. “We’ve been holding hands and helping people with FEMA applications. FEMA will provide two to three months of temporary housing for those who are eligible,” said Rotman.

Clients who would normally drive to counseling sessions or for other services struggled with gasoline shortages. “Clients have been saying, ‘I have to evaluate everything I do and ask whether it is gas-worthy.’ So we’ve been doing phone sessions. But I think it’s getting easier,” Rotman said on Nov. 6.

As power returns to homes and offices, however, Rotman said, he believes the nature of people’s challenges will shift.

“I have a feeling the calls are going to increase, especially for children who have had an incredibly difficult week,” he said. “We have some cases in which school is a safe haven for children. They are already in homes with conflict. School is the place where they are safe, happy, fed, and have an after-school program. Consider that these children haven’t had school for a week and some of their schools are still closed.”

Rotman underscored that JFS is available for emotional support for all, by phone or in person. JFS, a beneficiary agency of Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, can also provide emergency assistance for food, clothing, and short-term housing. While JFS cannot contact FEMA for individuals, they can help with the application process for anyone who is eligible.

To reach JFS, contact 973-765-9050.

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