Jewish groups are still on the front lines of the effort to help victims of the 2012 superstorm get back into their homes.
Nearly three years after Hurricane Sandy devastated coastal communities throughout the mid-Atlantic region, there are still thousands of families waiting to return home. To shed light on the issue, two Jewish volunteer organizations accepted a weekend-long challenge from Jersey Shore Volunteers.
In 48 hours of volunteering last weekend on a home repair worksite, each team had to garner as many social media likes for their efforts as possible. Steve Friedman, founder of JSV through Humanity TV, a nonprofit that encourages volunteerism, helped the teams with initial filming and brought his traveltelevision.org crew with him to the worksites to document the weekend.
“Hurricane Sandy did not get any type of recognition of needs from the media,” said Friedman. “Everyone thinks everything is taken care of and everyone is back home” — which is not the case for many residents.
The Klene Up Krewe, a program of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, took up the call-to-action.
David Goodman of Paramus, N.J., is one of the three co-founders of the Klene Up Krewe. He brought 10 volunteers to a St. Bernard Project worksite in Port Monmouth, N.J., on Sunday. The volunteers spent the day patching sheetrock, taping seams, putting together the bathroom vanity and working on landscaping for a couple whose home had been filled with 5 feet of water during Sandy. Videos and images of their work are available through social media platforms maintained by the federation.
Though initially founded to help out in the wake of Hurricane Katrina — they’ve taken 500 volunteers on missions to the Gulf Coast over the past nine years, Goodman estimated — the Krewe helps recovering communities in their home state. “We’re committed to N.J. — this is our home, this is our responsibility,” he said.
Among the volunteers were Goodman’s twin teenage daughters, Miri and Rivke. “It’s powerful to do this tzedakah with your parent, with your child,” said Goodman. “My twin teenage daughters have been to New Orleans with me twice and this was their third time volunteering in New Jersey.”
The girls have picked up unique skills, from mudding to floor installation, and plan to keep up with volunteering — a common sentiment among participants.
“You feel good that you’ve helped people, got people closer to getting home and getting back to normal life,” said Goodman. “You want to go back and do it again. You get that buzz really quick.”
Friedman couldn’t agree more. The whole point of the social media challenge was to raise awareness and get more people involved with volunteering.
Case in point: Behrend Builders, a program of the Morris Cafritz Center for Community Service at the Washington, D.C., JCC, had more than 200 people cast votes for them during a two-day period. “The multiplying effect is, that’s 200 more people that know there’s more work to be done. Every one of our stories, when you look at our shows,” Friedman said, resulted in participants saying,
“ ‘This is the best thing that I have done and I will continue to do it.’ ”
Erica Steen and six other volunteers from the D.C. metropolitan area drove up early Friday morning to work in Monmouth County with Habitat for Humanity on a home that had been severely wind-damaged. They set to work immediately repainting, putting on new facets and installing a new bay window.
Their second day of work took them to a home that needed all-new siding — the home’s original metal siding was completely rusted through as a result of storm damage.
“The family was there and was so grateful,” said Steen. “You could see it made a difference in their lives.”
On Sunday, they traveled to the Union Beach home of a widow with four young children. It had been flooded with 10 feet of water, and everything on the first floor was ruined. The family was living on the second floor, as unbeknownst to them hidden mold began creating health issues for two of the children.
To make the home healthy for the family, the Behrend Builders volunteers ripped out flooring, scrubbed down two-by-fours and painted them with mold-resistant sealant. Throughout the workday, Steen tweeted, Facebooked and posted photos to Instagram to document their progress. Behrend Builders’ main service area is low-income housing communities in D.C., but they have traveled before, including to New Orleans.
The two Jewish volunteer groups had an opportunity to meet up on Sunday and exchange information. Goodman is hopeful that the two groups can work together, perhaps on the Krewe’s next mission to New Orleans in October or on future trips to Haiti and Houston.
Beginning Monday, a new video from the weekend will be posted each day to the JSV YouTube channel. Readers are encouraged to share the videos and vote for their favorite team. The next three-day challenge will take place from June 19 to 21 with a two-day challenge scheduled for June 20 to 21.