Tuesday, October 10, 2017

High Holidays with Hurricane Harvey in Houston

Editors note--This article was written by Red Cross volunteer Steven Schwartz of Buffalo for the Jewish Journal of WNY.

“Hurricane Harvey TX, DR397-18, hit Texas hard from Corpus Christi all the way up the coast to the Louisiana state line, and inward as far north as Austin in some areas. Flooding in some areas was as much as 8 feet, and in the Corpus Christi area, more structural damage than flooding occurred. “ (Sarah Perkins, Pittsford, NY,  Red Cross Disaster Assessment Lead)

When Hurricane Harvey made landfall as a Category 4 Storm in Texas early in August, 2017, over one-half million residents were evacuated and 34,000 stayed in 240 Red Cross and partner shelters.  On September 22, I deployed to Texas, joining 160 Red Cross volunteers from Western & Central New York.

I have been a Red Cross volunteer for over seven years, during which time I have deployed to tornadoes in Alabama, storms in Connecticut, wildfires in Northern California, Superstorm Sandy in NY, Hurricane Matthew in North Carolina and “Snowvember” here at home. These efforts literally fulfill the commandment of “Tikkun Olam”, repairing the world. 

A child's thank you letter to the Red Cross in Houston
In Houston, I served as the Lead in Staff & Volunteer Relations, helping to anticipate and resolve problems between and among volunteers.  With thousands of volunteers traveling to a place most had never been, doing things they might not have done, with people they didn’t know, and under difficult circumstances, the major problems were relatively few.  Volunteers worked 12-14 hour days, 7-10 days in a row without a day off.  Many lived in staff shelters.  Despite these hardships and stresses, quality services were delivered and local residents responded gratefully, both personally and in cards and letters.

I had wanted to attend Yom Kippur services while in Houston.  I met Diane Levine, Red Cross Spiritual Care Lead on the disaster, who referred me to Rabbi Steve Morgen from Congregation Beth Yeshurun, the largest Conservative synagogue in the U.S.  He explained that the synagogue had been completely flooded, and although Torah scrolls and other books and materials had been saved, the building was totally unusable.  Joel Osteen had then offered his Lakewood Church to Beth Yeshurun for their High Holiday services.

Jai Lev Dravich (l) and Steven Schwartz at Kol Nidre Services
Jai Lev Dravich, from Santa Cruz, CA, with whom I had worked during Hurricane Matthew in North Carolina, and I attended this remarkable Kol Nidre service.  The huge arena (formerly a pro-hockey stadium) seated thousands of worshippers.  Images of the synagogue’s beautiful tapestries were projected on the sides and back of the bimah.  This was also Rabbi David Rosen’s last Kol Nidre service before his retirement after 22 years as Senior Rabbi.  After his sermon, in an emotional tribute, he was lauded for his wonderful work, and it was announced that the new entrance to the rebuilt synagogue would be dedicated in his honor.  His inspirational words engaged the entire congregation in the efforts to reclaim the synagogue from the flood waters as a physical act of Teshuva, the returning of Beth Yeshurun on Beechnut Street to the congregation.  (To view the devastation and to help, see the website:  www.bethyeshurun.org ).  We returned to our duties knowing we had witnessed an historical event.
Tapestry Projection Congregation Beth Yeshurun

As of mid-October, the Red Cross had provided over $200 million in direct cash assistance to a half million households in Texas alone. Millions of meals, snacks and relief items were delivered and over 100,000 health and mental health services were provided. Six weeks from landfall, only two Red Cross shelters remained open, serving 700 residents. Over 1000 Red Cross disaster volunteers remained in Texas at that time.  Additional efforts for Harvey extended into Louisiana.

Clean up supplies in a Houston warehouse to be distributed to
help families recovering after Hurricane Harvey
Overall, 16,000 Red Cross volunteers opened shelters ineight states, Puerto Rico and the U. S. Virgin Islands in response to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria and Nate.  They were joined by over 6,000 spontaneous volunteers.  Your voluntary donations supported these efforts.  The average cost of deploying a volunteer is $1650, and my friends and family raised nearly that amount. 

To respond to local disasters, the Federation helped to establish the Buffalo Jewish Service Corps (BJSC).  Over 70 members of the Buffalo Jewish community have received training in preparedness, psychological first aid and sheltering in preparation of a local response.  The last training also included members of the local Muslim community.  If you are interested in being a part of BJSC,  please contact Steven Schwartz (stevens@localnet.com), or  for more information about or becoming a Red Cross volunteer, visit www.redcross.org/volunteer

Monday, July 31, 2017

Red Cross Offers Support After Recent Floods

Photo by @qianliu on Twitter
Early in the morning of Thursday, July 13, dozens of Western and Central New York residents woke up to flash flood warnings on their cell phones, TV's and radios. In the Buffalo area, flash flooding was predicted to last from 10 a.m. to 1:45 p.m.. In under two hours, Buffalo got hit with 1.72 inches on rainfall and over 2 inches by the third hour, marking July 13th the wettest July day in almost 46 years. 

As the city of Buffalo and surrounding areas took on the torrential downpour, cars were submerged and homes were flooded. The streets were so submerged that children were swimming and playing games in the water.

Of course, with a weather disaster of this extent, the flooding caused in-home flood-related damage throughout the area. Once the Red Cross assessed that damage, it was decided that we should give clean up kits to those in need. The American Red Cross was prepared with over 100 clean up kits to distribute throughout several locations in the Western New York Area. 

Clean up kits included mops, buckets, bleach, a broom, a sponge and more to assist in clean up after a flood.  The initial date for the distribution of the clean up kits was July 16th, but that was extended throughout the week as the request for clean up kits increased. 
Clean up kits at the Harris Hills Methodist Church, Williamsville, NY

The majority of our clean up kits are kept at the Harris Hills Methodist Church in Williamsville, NY, where they were made available to the public the week after the flood. 

The Red Cross commends all of the rescue teams and the first responders of this disaster for all the lives saved and damaged prevented. As a second responder, the Red Cross is responsible in assisting those affected by disaster in whatever way we can, and we would like to thank our partners and volunteers in assembling and distributing our clean up kits during this disaster. Additionally, we would always like to thank our donors for making what we do possible. In fact, one week later, our volunteers were helping our neighbors in need again, after multiple tornadoes touched down in Western New York, and the Southern Tier dealt with more flooding.

You can help people affected by disasters like flooding and countless other crises by making a donation to support American Red Cross Disaster Relief. Your gift enables the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from disasters big and small. Visit redcross.org, call 1-800-REDCROSS or text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation. 

~Lily Kaufman, WNY Chapter Communications Intern

Friday, July 7, 2017

Jewish Community Center Makes Great Partners

At about 4am the morning of Monday, June 26, the Buffalo Fire Department was called to a fire at an apartment complex on Elmwood Avenue.  Red Cross volunteers responded right away, and provided immediate emergency assistance including shelter and food for the families in the three unites that were directly affected. Later, the Western New York Chapter received a call regarding a gas leak that was preventing the entire apartment from having any hot water. After speaking with the management of the Elmwood apartment complex, it was determined that all residents needed access to hot showers as soon as possible.

Our Disaster Department reached out to the Jewish Community Center. The JCC was there when we called for help, offering residents of the Elmwood apartment use of their shower facilities from 5:30 am-8 pm for nearly a week.
The Jewish Community Center of Greater Buffalo
on Delaware Avenue
“It has been a pleasure and a great experience working with Red Cross on this, and we were happy to help,” said Rick Zakalik, the Executive Director at the JCC of Greater Buffalo.   

Zakalik said that this isn’t the first time he and his team have teamed up with the Red Cross. Aside from generally being “friendly neighbors”, as he puts it (the Red Cross and JCC buildings are directly across from each other on Delaware Avenue), the JCC and Red Cross have teamed up before to help with emergencies in the Buffalo area.

“They (the JCC) have been great, accommodating and very welcoming” says Alexis Willard, Disaster Program Specialist for the Western New York Chapter. “There have been no issues from them”.

We are extremely grateful for the partnership we have developed with the JCC. A community disaster takes a community response, and there is no single agency that can meet all the needs of a community. Without partners like the JCC, the Red Cross would be unable to alone provide relief and comfort to our neighbors in need. Partners are a huge part of our back bone and play a huge role in how we are able to fulfill our mission. Thank you to the Jewish Community Center of Greater Buffalo for being the answer to our call and the solution we needed to help the people who needed us. If you'd like to learn more about how to support the Red Cross, as a partner, donor or volunteer, please visit www.redcross.org/wcny

~Lily Kaufman
Communications Intern, WNY Chapter

Friday, April 21, 2017

"Volunteering for the Red Cross has made me realize how lucky I am"

"I feel rewarded when I am able to teach people about fire safety," said David Roma as he told me why he became a Red Cross volunteer.

In the November 2014 Buffalo snow storm, David was out helping shoveling driveways for his neighbors. From this, he wished he could help people regularly. His daughter, Nicole, was a volunteer coordinator for the Western New York Chapter. So David went to her, and she helped set him up to be a Red Cross volunteer.

David Roma with fellow volunteer Shirley
Carnall during a Home Fire Campaign event
in the City of Buffalo
David remembers a specific time installing fire alarms for an elderly woman as part of the Home Fire Campaign. He and one other volunteer arrived at the house and found it was very run down. Windows were broken, there was no stove, barely any furniture, and no doors on rooms.  The elderly woman that called them to install fire alarms was the head of the house she housed her daughters and sons and their children, and David knew they simply installing smoke alarms made this family a little safer.

"When I see people like this it makes me realize how lucky I really am", said David.

If you're like David and enjoy helping people, you too can become an American Red Cross volunteer. Our volunteers have a range of opportunities when it comes to deciding what kind of volunteer you would want to be. It ranges from disaster relief to being a desk receptionist. Whatever kind of volunteer you want to be, you'll be helping the Red Cross to do their job to help provide comfort and hope to our neighbors in need.

~Emma Reeve, Communications Intern