77 days. As of today that’s the current number of days without power. For those who are not here, 77 days is hard to fathom what a toll this can take on one’s spirit. 77 days some have gone without running water. 77 days without being able to store fresh food without a cooler and ice (when ice is available). 77 days without an oven, no lights at night save for a flashlight or lantern, no hot water, telephone or TV which means access to news and updates about recovery is hard to come by. Internet is spotty at best and I’m hoping it stays long enough today for this to reach all of you.
Frankly, it exhausting. Not only are the easy chores in your life, like washing the dishes, harder to do but you add to that trying to put together the pieces of your life that have quite literally been blown apart (gutters, windows, cutting downed trees, removing debris, cleaning mold off of everything you own) and it becomes overwhelming. The faces of people all around look more drawn, haggard and wore down. It feels never-ending and as you pass by the line trucks on the road working tirelessly to try to bring back light into our lives there is a ray of hope on your drive home that maybe today is the day. Then as you walk through your door you realize it will now be 78 days without power. You breathe a sigh heavy with fatigue and say to yourself, “One more day, just make it through one more day.”
Here at the Hebrew Congregation of St. Thomas, we are fortunate because we see the generosity that pours in from so many since the storms and it helps to alleviate that weight. We then try to transfer that out to the community in the form of supplies, financial aid and sometimes just a simple hug and it does wonders to lift downed spirits. Theirs and ours.
This week is no different than any other week and again on our list of thank-you’s is the
- Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA): Through their unyielding generosity we have received $75,000 in grants from their Hurricane Relief Fund for emergency cash assistance and critical needs of our congregation and their families. These funds have been instrumental in coordinating relief efforts here on the ground. The JFNA was among the first to reach out and acted almost immediately to send relief.
As if that were not enough, with help from the JFNA, the Union of Reform Judaism has donated new Mishkan Tefilloh prayerbooks and Mishkan HaNefesh Machzorim to replace some of the prayerbooks damaged by Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
- Russ and Sandra Rubin: Sandra is the daughter of our own Stella Minion who is our Administrative and Life Cycle Coordinator here at HCST. After hearing about the devastation through her parents, Sandra and her husband Russ raised money through donations from their friends and family. Then through Stella, coordinated with Agi Rampino, our Distribution Coordinator, to purchase and ship items that we were still lacking or that had run out quickly. This targeted approach brought in much needed items like baby diapers, adult diapers, underwear, socks, women’s clothing, toiletries and receiving blankets at exactly the time we were running out and trying to scale up for another distribution.
- Mitzi Rubin: On the tail of this came Mitzi Rubin, no relation to Russ and Sandra Rubin but the daughter of two of our local congregants, Larry and Helen Goldman. Mitzi worked with Temple Sinai, her own Synagogue in Atlanta, GA to also purchase and send a specific list of supplies that we were learning were needed through our distributions across the island. Mitzi purchased and shipped these items through Amazon and we received Coleman Stoves and Propane canisters, Mosquito Coils, Children’s Medicine and 5 gallon buckets.
- Americorps: This national organization brought in supplies in order to supplement other distribution efforts around the island. Liz & Sophia with Americorps worked with Agi Rampino to send out 50 collapsible water containers that hold 5 gallons of filtered water. They also gave us 125 – 5 gallon water coolers.
These containers and coolers combined with 50 Sawyer Water Purification Systems that were donated to us by Rachel with United Church of Christ proved welcome at our distribution sites this week as many cisterns are contaminated and those on city water are still being asked to boil any water used for drinking or cooking.
These supplies and our efforts took us this week to the West end of St. Thomas. Last Thursday we served the employees of the University of the Virgin Islands. UVI is the 3rd largest employer in the Virgin Islands and has 456 employees. Liza J. Margolis: Senior Coordinator of Donor Relations and Special Events and also a member of our congregation, coordinated with the executive offices of UVI to make this distribution happen. Along with volunteers from the HCST we set up supplies in the Wellness Center and UVI coordinated to have the departments most in need come first. Many of whom were collecting for their fellow coworkers who were busy rebuilding the university so that the students and teachers can get back to work. Our distribution was a big success and even brought in the St. Thomas Source a local online newspaper to cover the story. You can read the article here:
Monday took us to Bordeaux. The area of Bordeaux is the farthest west community of St. Thomas. Most of our farmers live and grow food here for our community. Before the storms many had been working with the local schools to provide fresh local fruits and vegetables to our kids through the school lunch programs and as you can imagine much of that has been halted due to damage from the hurricanes. Not only are the schools hurting but the farmers are as well. Before we arrived the Indian Association was the only other relief effort that had made it out to this remote but integral part of our island.
Maybe because of its remoteness, the community of Bordeaux is strong. As people came to collect supplies you could hear throughout the area neighbor calling to neighbor, “Come, they have diapers, I know your sister needs diapers for her daughter.” or “My neighbor is disabled, do you have pain relievers? He can’t come here, I’m here for him.” There was no grabbing or greed just one person looking out for another.
Not only do we distribute supplies but because of some of the monetary donations we are able to help a few financially as well. You may remember that we sponsor Joseph Sibilly Elementary School on a regular basis and now because of the storms we have adopted a few families and a couple teachers who have lost everything in the storms. In the past weeks we’ve brought them supplies that were immediately needed like food, water, toiletries and clothing; but this week we were able to help with long term rebuilding by giving a financial contribution. This will allow some to place a deposit for a new apartment or replace furniture ruined by water and mold maybe even finally pay for repairs to their car. (It’s amazing the damage a coconut can do to a car with 150 mile per hour winds. They’re like flying bowling balls.)
Some of our funds went to other non-profits as well like:
- My Brother’s Workshop, who works with at-risk-youth by teaching them real life skills through their carpentry workshop and their local coffee and sandwich shop in downtown Charlotte Amalie.
- Family Resource Center, a shelter for victims of domestic violence. Family Resource Center opened its doors with a clear purpose –to end family violence.
- Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands, a philanthropic organization that manages a permanent collection of funds as well as essential programs and services to benefit the citizens of the USVI.
These organizations are equipped to help those in need and reach members of our island community that we are unable to reach.
Another organization that we were able to contribute financially to is the St. Thomas Corp of the Salvation Army. As other meal programs and food distribution sites were closing down the Salvation Army started up their soup kitchen once again. We decided they were the perfect recipients of the bulk food we were given that we had no way to appropriately distribute.
This year the Salvation Army was also a part of our 45th Annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Service. An annual service and meal organized by the HCST and the St. Thomas Reformed Church. Every year we alternate which location hosts the event and this year we were proud to carry on this tradition here in our Sanctuary. The music, provided by Reformed Church Choir, filled the air and the meal afterwards at Lilienfeld House, catered by Jen’s Deli was a huge success. To come together and be thankful and celebrate the community that we have was just as needed as the warm food and uplifting service provided by Rabbi Michael Feshbach and Pastor Jeffrey Neevel.
In the end that is what this island is all about, community. Christians and Jews, farmers and professors, community organizers, neighbors, friends….family. It’s the one thing that wasn’t blown apart. In fact its roots grow deeper than ever before. In the midst of not only the devastation on our own island but the atrocities that plague the rest of the world it reminds me of a quote by Fred Rogers, better known to some of us as Mr. Rogers, who knows community and neighbors better than anyone else,
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
Indeed you will. St. Thomas…our community, our home.
Amy K Ogden
Communications & Financial Coordinator
It’s been about a week and a half since our last update and we have been busy! To start let’s keep with tradition and thank a few people and organizations that have gone above and beyond to help us to serve the Jewish Community and the people of the Virgin Islands.
- Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA): First we would like to make a very important correction. In our last update we stated that we received 100 generators from the UJA Federation of NY. To clarify, the generators donated were made possible thanks to grants made by the UJA Federation of New York to the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), the umbrella organization of Jewish Federations in the U.S. and Canada. It is the JFNA that donated and coordinated these much needed generators that has brought so much light in so many ways. A very special thank you to Ed Finkel the Regional Director of the JFNA within its Network of Independent Communities who has spent endless hours and phone calls tracking, coordinating and communicating with us to ensure that the generators were shipped and arrived safely to our port. If anyone has ever shipped anything here you know it is no small feat. Thank you for your dedication and follow through.
- The UJA Federation of NY, in partnership with AFYA, a medical supply recovery organization: These organization chartered a flight to St. Thomas to bring supplies to Schneider Regional Medical Center, our local hospital that lost the use of the 4th and 5th Some of these supplies were suggested by our own Agi Rampino after communications with the hospital as to their most pressing needs. In addition to 1,000 Tetanus shots, the flight included diapers, medications, solar chargers, batteries, baby formula, receiving blankets, adult diapers and 4 Laptops This amazing team included:
- Mark D. Medin: Executive Vice President of the UJA Federation of New York
- Allisa F. Levin, Esq.: GLS Legal Search Group
- Sheryl Parker: Director of UJA’s Volunteer efforts
- Lauren Rothschild Epstein: Planning Director, Carin of the UJA Federation of New York who, while not on the flight, worked diligently to coordinate these last minute supplies to ensure they would be on board.
Not only are we fortunate enough to receive large bulk donation like the generators and Tetanus shots but the donations and supplies that help to fill in the spaces in between come from individual friends and families of the Jewish Communities and other congregations as well.
- Jan Tannenbaum: A stateside supporter of the Jewish Community of the Virgin Islands; this generous donation included 2 pallets shipped from Miami, Florida. These pallets came at a time where we were running very low on supplies and needed a boost quickly in order to maintain the level of outreach that we’ve been able to up to this point.
- Congregation Mickve Israel in Savannah, GA – Another 2 pallets were shipped from Congregation Mickve Israel in Savannah, GA on the heels of the 2 pallets from Jan Tannenbaum. These supplies were donated after a supply drive in their own community. We would like to specifically thank April Haas who coordinated the shipment through numerous emails and telephone calls.
Without these four pallets arriving when they did our efforts would have been temporarily delayed. Instead, we were able to supplement continuously needed items like; food, water, clothing, pet food, batteries, work gloves, diapers, baby wipes and cleaning supplies. Delivering a second round of supplies to these families and organizations helps them to continue to get back on their feet.
What is easy to overlook is that even though some businesses are open now and have supplies it can be very difficult to obtain them. Some have lost their jobs and money is tight, if you add onto that home repairs that need to be made or a down payment for a new apartment because their old one was destroyed.
Perhaps some have jobs and can afford supplies but getting to the stores during the limited hours of operation is difficult. When you are able to make it, there might be a long line or the D batteries you went to buy have been sold out for 2 weeks leaving you in the dark for another night without a flashlight.
These are the people we’re reaching. The night nurse who has a 3 year old and has to carry her child to a babysitter now has a stroller and we’re working on helping her repair her car so she won’t have to walk to work at night.
The woman who needed to borrow our computer for a few hours to work on her resume so she would no longer need our help.
And this week I’ll just leave you with a portion of a letter received with one of our pallets. This exemplifies the generousity of everyone involved in this tireless effort. Not surprisingly, this time the generousity comes through a child and written by his very proud aunt.
“My nephew, Jenson, will turn seven on October 2. He absolutely loves St. Thomas. His parents were planning to take hime back to the islands over the holidays this year, but have now been told they should make other arrangements….Jenson wants to help the people who were affected by the recent hurricanes..He talked to his mom and dad about ways to help and they came to the conclusion theat in lieu of birthday gifts this year, they would request donations be made to the hurricnae relief efforts. Jenson has dedicated his 7th birthday to you. I want you to know that this box is really from Jenson.”
So from all us at The Hebrew Congregation and the community of St. Thomas we would like to say a very heartfelt thank you to Jenson. We are humbled by you.
Amy K Ogden
Communications & Financial Coordinator
Hurricane Irma Relief Effort Update: October 26, 2017
One of the surprising experiences about living in a disaster area is how quickly time flies by and how many things you can fit into one day. It’s been a week since our last update and there is so much that has happened but first we want to take a moment to say thank you.
- The Hebrew Congregation of St. Thomas has been fortunate to be able to work from a donated space in order to distribute relief supplies not only to the Jewish Community but to the island as a whole. We wish to thank the following members of our community without whose generosity this would not have been possible:
St. Thomas Liquors
Margaret Cohen Adams & Matthew Adams
Al Cohen’s Plaza
- The UJA Federation of NY generously donated a shipment of 100 generators for distribution. The need for these was apparent by how quickly they were distributed starting from the moment they were being offloaded from the truck. Some cried, some jumped for joy. We are truly grateful, as are the members of our community.
- The Maduro and Related Families Net: This worldwide net of families sent word out almost immediately and was able to coordinate significant donations through their chain of connection from Holland to California to Panama. It is truly amazing that they can connect literally hundreds of related families and then use this connection to help others. Awe inspiring indeed.
- In the coming weeks we will send out a more comprehensive list as we are still compiling this information. Acknowledging the extraordinary contributions that so many have made is very important to us. Not just financially or even with supplies but also through thoughts, prayers and even lifting a box or two or sending a kind note.
We are truly humbled and extremely grateful, thank you.
As I mentioned before, this has been a busy week. Last Friday, October 20th we participated with The Rotary Club of St. Thomas, My Brothers Workshop and the Indian Association in a distribution effort to the Anna’s Retreat area, a particularly hard hit area of the island. Most of our distribution was focused on the Tutu High Rise buildings much of which were destroyed and many of those families, with no place else to go, are still living in these buildings. The excitement and relief on their faces for just the basic supplies of life were indicative of their daily struggle. It was so successful we are trying to participate in a second distribution on Monday, October 30th. Some of the items we gave out include:
Feminine Hygiene Products
Canned Goods and Shelf Stable Products
Freeze Dried Food
Over the Counter Medications
Toiletries (toothpaste, toothbrushes, deodorant)
It was later that day that our glorious shipment of generators arrived! After a long, rewarding morning in Anna’s Retreat the team retreated ourselves and headed back to our storage space to help unload 100 generators donated by the UJA Federation of NY. By the end of the day we were exhausted but elated.
Part of our distribution of supplies and generators is not only for the Jewish Community of the Virgin Islands; it’s for those most in need. Case in point is a local school we sponsor named the Joseph Sibilly Elementary School. Agi Rampino, our Distribution Coordinator, spoke with the guidance counselor there in order to determine any families that might be in a particularly dire situation. Four families were identified and Agi is working closely with the school to find out their specific needs so we can find the best way to help them get back on their feet. We will keep you updated on their progress.
We were also able to help a kindergarten teacher, also at Sibilly, who lost her entire house. After her and her two sons moved in with her mother (who only lost part of her roof) their generator caught fire which in turn caught their truck on fire. The have truly lost almost everything. When we showed up with a starter box of supplies (food, water, clothes for the boys for school, toiletries etc.) she began to cry; mostly I think, because someone cared. Imagine her absolute relief when we were able to donate one of our generators to her and her family as well!
Speaking of generators, a dozen went on loan to Dr. Carolyn Clansy Miller who treats patients with Cancer, AIDS and senior citizens with health issues. These generators will help in dispensing the medications these patients so desperately need. Dr. Miller wasn’t the only fortunate one, Schneider Hospital, which lost their fourth floor during Hurricane Irma, received 2 generators to assist in their operations.
These are just a few of the ways we’ve been helping the community bounce back but the number of times our members have come to the storage site to pick up supplies, not for themselves but for others is too many to count. Grabbing a flashlight for a friend, a box of diapers for a single mother who lost her job, putting others who lost their job to work so they can have money to buy their own supplies. It is heartwarming to say the least.
Storms like these are devastating and the power of nature can be humbling and terrifying. It’s hard to imagine wind snapping a tree in half and taking every leaf from every tree. But just a few short weeks later, rain subsides, buds begin to grow and flowers bloom again. People too are like this, still reeling from the trauma we band together to create something from nothing. To help others grow and stand tall once again.
~Amy K Ogden
Communications & Financial Coordinator
Hurricane Irma Relief Effort Update: October 18, 2017
Good morning everyone, we hope this finds you well. As you know on September 6th, 2017 St. Thomas, along with several nearby Caribbean islands were impacted by Hurricane Irma. The south wall of the eye of this category 5 hurricane swept across St. Thomas and St. John and devastated both islands. Many lost roofs, some whole houses losing everything they own. Some lost their lives. 13 days later on September 19th Hurricane Maria, ANOTHER category 5 storm, passed to the south of St. Thomas and north of St. Croix. What wasn’t taken by Hurricane Irma was taken by Hurricane Maria.
Here at the Hebrew Congregation of St. Thomas we’ve been working diligently to stay on top of the flood of emails and phone calls of well-wishers and needs-to-help not only from our own congregants but Chai members from all over the world.
Our website has collected a significant number of donations through the Hurricane Irma Relief Effort. Our President, Jeffrey Silverman has coordinated a trailer of supplies from Florida and was unloaded at a storage facility last Friday, October 13, 2017 to be distributed locally.
In addition, Julie Novick, Rabbi Feshbach’s wife is fund raising state-side and has received donations from the Katzen Foundation, Rodeph Shalom Congregation in NYC and she has met with the rabbis from Congregation Emanuel of the City of New York and Mishkan Israel of Hamden Connecticut. While she was in Connecticut she gave an interview on the local Connecticut NPR station to appeal for help.
Rabbi Feshbach continues to meet with many organizations locally including FEMA, The Red Cross, Salvation Army, the Rotary Club, and My Brother’s Workshop along with many of the other clergy members across the island. His former congregation of Temple Shalom in Chevy Chase, MD has been very generous with support through the HIRE fund and Mickvah Israel of Georgia is sending supplies. His initial appeal letter after Hurricane Irma was read aloud to at least 30 congregations across North America over the High Holidays and at one in particular in Florida after the letter was read a woman stood up and said, “That’s my nephew!” Clearly a proud Aunt. These appeals prompted offers of support through dozens of congregations and hundreds of individuals.
Last week we sent out a Congregant Need Assessment Form via email and as of Friday Agi Rampino has finished calling everyone in our congregation for this information. If you did not receive a phone call or if Agi is waiting to hear back from you please call her on her cell phone at 340-690-4019.
In order to fill these needs and then the needs of the community across the island we have assembled a committee in order to distribute the extraordinary number of donations and supplies that we have received. This committee includes:
- Rabbi Michael Feshbach
- Agi Rampino – now on hiatus from the Gift Shop because of a lack of tourism, Agi is giving her time to lead our Committee. In the past she has co-chaired the Social Action Committee with Alex Laing and is now using her experience to lead our distribution efforts.
- Stella Minion, Administrative and Life Cycle Coordinator – is working with families who had Destination Life Cycle Events that have been cancelled and trying to reschedule. She is also working diligently in assessing the damage to the auction items in our warehouse.
- Amy Ogden, Communication and Financial Coordinator is working on processing the thousands of donations and working hard to get word out about distribution efforts
- Lou Minion – Board Treasurer is guiding us with financial decisions and budgeting
With this outpouring of generosity along with the first shipment of supplies we’ve already we’ve been able to fill congregant needs from the Assessment Form mentioned above and we’ve been able to donate to the following groups just in the last two days:
- Joseph Sibilly Elementary School
- Bethlehem House
- Nana Babies
- Family Resource Center
- Ulla Miller Elementary School
This Friday, October 20th we will be working with The Rotary Club, Indian Association and My Brother’s Workshop to distribute some of these much needed supplies in the Anna’s Retreat Area. A separate email will follow with a call for volunteers to meet at the warehouse on Friday morning at 8am to load supplies and meet up with the other groups at 9:15am. If you are able we could certainly use some extra hands and a few extra cars/trucks to carry supplies.
Every week going forward we will keep you updated with our recovery process, call for volunteers and pictures to show our progress. There’s still so much to do and so many people without homes and jobs who have lost everything but this was a great start and it’s thanks to all of you.
~Amy K Ogden
Communications & Financial Coordinator