Hollie Cerame got so much satisfaction and did so much good from helping out during the Hurricane Sandy recovery, she has been steadily ramping up her “tikun olam” roles ever since.
When the superstorm struck last year, Cerame, as social action chair at East Brunswick Jewish Center, knew there would be many people devastated by the storm’s impact.
Through her committee, she appealed to synagogue members for donations for hard-hit residents of Sayreville, South Amboy, and South River, and congregants responded generously. “I was so glad EBJC was able to put together such a great effort and I was there to help coordinate everything…,” said Cerame, an East Brunswick resident. She also sought out people and agencies helping victims and assisted them in their task.
Among the organizations she became involved with were the Jewish Family & Vocational Service of Middlesex County and the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County, which collected and distributed clothes, household items, and gift certificates to those ravaged by the storm. Supplies were also given to Women Aware, a shelter for battered women.
Cerame’s efforts were so impressive, she was asked to join federation’s Jewish Community Relations Council and the JFVS board.
“She’s a lovely lady,” said JFVS executive director Sara Levine. “She’s someone who takes a look at the broader impact and wants to make the world a better place for everybody.”
Federation planning and allocations director Laura Safran said staff members at her organization were inspired by Cerame’s energy. “Somebody like this is the lifeblood of our community,” Safran said. “She is one of those rare people. Some people feel compassion and a need to help during a crisis. However, Hollie seems to always feel that compassion.”
Long before Sandy, said Cerame, EBJC members had donated food and supplies to Aldersgate United Methodist Church’s crisis room, which distributes material and financial aid to the needy. But the assistance the church provided both during and after the storm moved her to become a board member of the crisis room.
Cerame has also helped out at Saint Mary Coptic Orthodox Church in East Brunswick, which dispenses furniture and household goods to those in need throughout the county.
Cerame said she and the EBJC social action committee soon realized that acting alone to help storm victims was too overwhelming and so they sought out people and agencies to work with.
JFVS referred her to a South Amboy woman who was almost singlehandedly trying to coordinate that devastated community’s relief efforts. The frustrated woman couldn’t get help from the Red Cross because she did not have the necessary credentials. Cerame stepped in, got in touch with the organization, which was willing to give supplies to EBJC to turn over to the woman.
Cerame also said she joined other EBJC members in hands-on clean-up efforts in Sayreville, along with her two sons, Michael, 22, and Andrew, 24.
As a result of her relief efforts during Sandy, Cerame noticed that although many organizations inside and outside the Jewish community were assisting, they weren’t coordinating with each other and decided to step in as a go-between.
Cerame said she was gratified to be able to do as much as she has done. “To me this is a mitzva; it’s what being Jewish is all about.”
Volunteering after Sandy has also taught Cerame a lesson about the value of even the smallest items. She tells people “not to throw anything out. Every single thing in your house can be donated. There is so much need even without Hurricane Sandy and there are still people who haven’t recovered from the storm.”