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“We’re providing 150 families a day basic necessities of clothing, supplies, food,” said Beth Joseph of Jewish Family Services of Atlantic and Cape May counties. “Many people’s houses were flooded with their electrical systems and furnaces destroyed, so you’re looking at hundreds of people displaced. Also, tons of businesses were ruined and it might be a year before they are opened, so we need to account for the unemployed who can no longer support themselves.”
Joseph’s organization has raised more than $50,000 to provide temporary housing for families ineligible for federal assistance, a sum that hardly scratches the surface of what is needed. And the situation is likely to get worse once FEMA pulls out.
“There’s still so much to do, and the money we’ve raised so far will not be enough,” Joseph said.
Millions of dollars have been raised by Jewish organizations and countless volunteer efforts have been mobilized. UJA-Federation of New York has allocated some $10 million for relief in eight counties, including the five boroughs of New York City, Westchester and Long Island. The federation, the country’s largest, raised an additional $2.5 million through its website.
So far, $3.2 million has been disbursed to beneficiary agencies to provide food, water, shelter and other necessities, but the organization is beginning to look ahead as well – to permanent housing, trauma treatment, and services for the poor and elderly who don’t have insurance.
“Even though it’s a few weeks after the storm, the basic needs are not going to go away so fast,” said Alice Blass of the the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, which has raised $54,000 for storm relief, about half of which has been disbursed to agencies.
Nationally, the Jewish Federations of North America, the umbrella group of all the local federations, has raised about $3 million for hurricane relief – about $2.2 million from other federations and the rest from its own coffers. About $250,000 was allocated to New York and $350,000 to federations in New Jersey and Rockland County, north of New York City.
That’s not counting dozens of smaller volunteer efforts that have drawn support from across the Jewish community. More than 60 carloads of supplies were donated by area synagogues to coastal New Jersey communities. And a synagogue in Baltimore bused hundreds of volunteers to the heavily Jewish Brooklyn neighborhood of Seagate, which even now still has the feel of a disaster zone.
On a sunny Sunday afternoon, volunteers wearing boots and masks filled the streets. Kids worked on assembly lines to help rip out the basements of homes and teenagers weaved through the narrow streets on ATVs handing out cleaning supplies. Shomrim, the Jewish neighborhood watch group, had set up a command unit and was handing out hot food and drinks. Along the beach, gaping holes in waterfront homes offered a peek at what was lost inside. Broken china, pieces of detached roofing, and scattered electronics littered the beach and sidewalks.
Pinny Dembitzer, the president of the Seagate Homeowners Association, put on a brave face as he helped organize the cleanup, directing ambulances, food trucks and cleaning supplies to the proper destinations while answering three cell phones. Dembitzer hopes the neighborhood will come back stronger than ever. But surrounded by ruination and confronting untold rebuilding costs, that future seemed perilously hard to imagine.
“Nobody here was spared,” Dembitzer said. “Every single house you’re looking at had damage, and it will take millions to see repairs. I’ve been here 30 years, and I’ve never had a flood. Ninety-five percent of the people here don’t have insurance.”