We sometimes take for granted that we have a network of agencies and synagogues servicing their clients and members. The routine of daily encounters becomes almost automatic and recedes from our daily consciousness.
But when a disaster such as Sandy strikes, it takes that same community to respond to the urgent needs of its constituents. Those agencies and synagogues that didn’t lose power or had it restored early on were like the settlement houses of yore, providing food, warmth, and comfort in the tradition of Abraham. Our agencies that care for residents responded with the utmost dedication and skill, ensuring safe environments.
We at Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ were without power until the Tuesday following the storm, and our frontline agencies, Jewish Family Service of Central NJ and Jewish Family Service of MetroWest, also faced lengthy outages. But our IT staff installed temporary hotlines for the two JFS agencies to respond to calls for assistance. We also set up a fund-raising mailbox for contributions to provide immediate relief for food, shelter, emergency transportation, and trauma counseling.
The needs are enormous. Let me quote from our JFS executives, Reuben Rotman, executive director of JFS MetroWest, and Tom Beck, executive director of JFS Central.
• By far, the single most pressing need is related to food. Those clients who regularly struggle with issues of food insecurity were significantly impacted by days of no power. By the end of Tuesday, Nov. 6 (after being open only two days and with significant struggles in reaching certain clients still without power), JFS had distributed over $3,000 in supermarket gift cards. This need is expected to grow exponentially in days.
• In contacting each client, JFS spoke with an elderly man who lives independently in West Orange. His medical needs are such that he lives with a feeding tube. Due to power outages, the company that delivers the supplies to maintain the feeding tube (nutrition supplements) could not come. Once the temporary phone line was installed, JFS learned of this issue via the agency’s emergency phone response. The JFS social worker researched providers and was able to arrange for a same-day delivery of new supplies.
• For JFS clients who do not have regular employment, or are hourly employees, the loss of income during the past week has left them particularly vulnerable. With phone lines now restored, JFS expects to see an increase in related requests for emergency financial assistance (rental support, utility payments, food, etc.).
• Shortly after Hurricane Sandy hit, we continued our Kosher Meals-on-Wheels program. We have also made it a priority to check on our older adult clients who may be particularly vulnerable to the effects of the storm. Many are without food, water, or electricity. JFS personnel have brought food, milk, blankets, flashlights, and ice to clients in need. We’ve also provided emergency food for families who visit the agency looking for help.
• A client, Mrs. K, who was particularly affected by the storm, is a woman in her 90s who is housebound with advanced Parkinson’s Disease. She lives on the top floor of her home, which has no power due to the storm. JFS was successful in getting Mrs. K to her sister’s home, where there is power, using a special transportation company equipped to get her to a safe and secure environment.
• The needs of our community continue to grow each day in the aftermath of the storm. JFS is experiencing an increase in requests for all of our services, including food pantry, personal care transportation, Kosher Meals-on-Wheels, nursing and social work services, as well as emergency financial assistance.
Our federation received emergency funding via our umbrella Jewish Federations of North America and we’re tapping our United Jewish Appeal reserves to meet the burgeoning need. But we need to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars more just for immediate needs, let alone long-term ones. To donate to the Hurricane Relief Fund, go to www.jfedgmw.org.
Even when the federation headquarters was without power, we provided emergency IT assistance so that agencies could operate and New Jersey Jewish News could publish. We sent out alerts to all our constituents advising them of the JFS Hotline numbers and government resources and to galvanize volunteers. We surveyed synagogues to gauge their needs and raised funds to meet emergency requests.
I want to thank our staff and lay leaders who tirelessly worked to respond to all the needs despite difficult personal circumstances. We also thank the law firm of Lowenstein Sandler for hosting our staff when our offices were cold and dark.
And, as we recite every Shabbat at the Musaf service, we thank all those who take care of the needs of the community.