Federation generates community response
Power went down at the Whippany headquarters of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ as Sandy barreled in on Oct. 28, and it didn’t come back up until Tuesday, Nov. 6.
But for the organization, which coordinates community support at the best of times, the worst of times made it even more crucial to keep going.
That meant, first and foremost, finding ways for people to communicate. The task was handled by the federation’s information technology team, headed by Carl Scalzo. With a generator powering computers at the Aidekman Jewish Community Campus in Whippany, they helped agencies affiliated with the federation get on line and reach clients.
“I knew I had a good team, but I didn’t know just how good,” said Scalzo, whose department serves local agencies as well as clients literally around the country. “And you’ve got to want to make it happen.” Scalzo put their success down to two things — skill and dedication.
He lives in Staten Island, and when they lost power there and he realized that fuel might be an issue, he moved his family into a hotel in Whippany. Other people, he said, risked driving in to the office even when they were down to a quarter tank, “without worrying about whether they were going to be able to get home.”
While the rest of the building remained in darkness, Scalzo and his crew managed to establish a temporary work center for the NJ Jewish News staff. After the storm hit, the staff pulled together four editions of the paper, including two weeklies for Greater MetroWest and one edition each for the Monmouth and Middlesex federation communities.
“Given the circumstances, I think we’ve done pretty well,” managing editor Abby Meth Kanter said. “Our staff and IT rallied to get essential information out to our readership.”
Federation professionals found space at the law firm of Lowenstein Sandler in Roseland, where temporary phone service was put into operation. “We’ve had to innovate,” said Max Kleinman, the federation’s executive vice president.
An emergency hotline was made available for those needing to reach the Jewish Family Service organizations of either MetroWest or Central NJ — both of which were also operating without power at their head offices.
The federation also opened a local emergency mailbox for Hurricane Sandy relief on the home page of its website, www.jfedgmw.org.
“On Friday, we sent out a survey to the synagogues and other community institutions to find out if there were other people in need of help,” Kleinman said. The federation also solicited contributions to a Hurricane Relief Fund in partnership with the Jewish Federations of North America.
Stanley Stone, the federation’s executive director, said the federation was prepared to meet challenges large and small.
“When we heard from Tom Beck, head of the Central JFS, that some of their elderly clients were still without heat in their homes, we offered to provide hotel accommodation,” said Stone. “We will do whatever is required.”
Stone was in Israel with a mission when Sandy struck. Others on the trip were riveted by what was happening in the United States, and as stunned by the images of devastation as he was. He got back on Nov. 1, relieved to be back with his family and the community. “It was easier to be here, where I could see what was happening for myself,” he said.
He said the resilience and collaboration shown by individuals and organizations had been extraordinary. He cited the offer by the YM-YWHA of Union County to provide 50 kosher meals for the residents of Lester Housing, the senior residence on the Whippany campus, which had lost power. That offer proved unnecessary, Kleinman said, thanks in part to the efforts of volunteers — coordinated by staff members Stacy Brown and Dana Lichtenberg — who brought meals to them.
“The first concern was with people’s immediate physical needs and everyone was trying to meet those needs,” Kleinman said. “Our secondary concern will be with the rebuilding, helping people work out insurance and other resources. For people on the margin, something like this can be devastating.”
Debbie Rosenwein, the federation’s director of planning and allocations, said the week had been a challenge. “We’ve reached out to the agencies and synagogues to do a quick assessment of short- and long-term needs.” She said they were also planning how, going forward, to make use of the help offered by so many people in the community.
Asked if he was going to rest, given that power returned to the campus on Tuesday morning, Scalzo said, “No way. Now we’ve got to start getting ready for Super Sunday” — the federation’s major fund-raising phonathon — “the first Sunday in December.”