By Raizy Goldberg
The water came rushing in faster than anyone could have imagined. Hurricane Sandy arrived with furious force to our area. Far Rockaway, the Five Towns, and other surrounding suburbs desperately struggled to get through its elements unscathed. Within the short span of an autumn evening, quaint and quiet neighborhood streets turned into fierce flowing rapids, waves pouring through basement doors and windows, mercilessly filling homes from the bottom up. Amidst the eerie silence that followed, Sandy’s mass wreckage revealed itself, and with it much worry and panic. It quickly became clear that the victims of Hurricane Sandy would need a full force relief effort, from the mundane to the enormous. In an attempt to comprehensively meet the needs of those most affected, dedicated individuals began to selflessly give their time and talents to assess, categorize, and prioritize every victim’s situation. Thus, the Project Nivneh division of Achiezer was born, and with it, a system known as Partners in Sandy.
The purpose of the program is to pair families who are struggling to cope with the devastation they suffered with a partner who can serve as a social liaison and advocate for all of their needs. Over 30 committees with talented and dedicated volunteers from our community have been assembled to provide the resources the partners require to help their partnered families. A website for Project Nivneh (nivneh.org) has been artfully created so that victims of the hurricane can register online. They are then called by one of the calling squad volunteers, who can assess their needs and classify them by the type of assistance or partnership best suited for them. Partners are assigned to those in need of social support and recovery and those who need guidance and resources for items or services. Our most critical committee took care of demolition, assessments, and the installation of boilers and hot water heaters so people could get back into their homes. Efforts are now focused on the items of everyday life that were lost, to hopefully allay the worry of parents who had sustained this devastating trauma. Food, household items, bedding, furniture, appliances, baby and children’s necessities, sefarim, clothing, and linen are just some of the goods and services provided. Hundreds of families are registered in our system and have been called. Many have already been partnered or are in the process and currently being helped in other ways. With almost 200 partners currently in place from our local area, to Monsey, Lakewood, and Toronto, there are many more in line to be trained. Every day more people are added as demand for a partner’s personal touch, efficient response time, and warm support are on the rise.
To date, the partner system is working amazingly well. Overwhelmed families can now be boosted by the calm and patient voice of their newly assigned partner, who is ready and equipped to triage and fill their needs. Whether it is a demolition team to remove wet sheetrock and mold, procuring new car seats or strollers that were lost in soaked cars, getting them a washer/dryer, helping expedite insurance claims, boiler and hot water tank hook-up, or emotional support that is needed, Partners in Sandy is bringing families back to life.
Many victims were at first reluctant to receive help, proudly stating that they will be fine on their own. The quiver in their voices revealed otherwise. The partners and committee heads work together to read between the lines of what it is a family really needs, and help facilitate the process with great dignity and ease. After validating one young mother’s concern that she never imagined having to take from others, one partner warmly urged her to accept whatever assistance she needed to get back on her feet so that sometime soon she will be able to be on the giving end once again. The mother tearfully agreed and is now on her way towards getting the items and services her family requires. Another partner has taken her partnered family into her own home to live comfortably while they obtain the necessary repairs to their house, while yet another went the extra mile to personally purchase housewares for her family and toiveled them for her. While each partner is initially chosen for their selfless dedication to others and their ability to listen, the experience seems to take on a more intense significance for them as they get to know their family and help them navigate the road home day by day. Remarkably, for many of these victims, it seems that the hope that some semblance of normalcy will indeed return is what motivates them to get through these trying times.
The feedback is unbelievable, as many feel that “heartbreaking is turning to heartwarming.” What makes these volunteers smile is when they hear that they are the reason someone has heat or fresh laundry from new appliances or is able to move back into their home. Many partners are on the receiving end of so much gratitude and appreciation from those they have helped that it renders them speechless. Incredible notes of thanks accompanying a gift or a candy platter for Shabbos have been sent to our partners from their families who themselves are still finding their balance. Of course, the singular purpose of Project Nivneh is to care for those affected, but the real outcome has been the sense of achdus and camaraderie that is weaving itself through the fabric of our Five Towns area more and more each day.
The need is immediate and the faith is fervent both for those affected by Sandy and those mobilized to assist. There is a new section on the website where people can donate items that will go directly to the hurricane victims. While the actual reconstruction of their homes is of paramount importance, this site aims to fill the gaps inside the home such as baby equipment, small appliances, and toys, which helps create a sense of peace and normal continuity for families. Donations of new and gently used products have been pouring in from all over the United States as the foundation of this grateful community continues to grow stronger and begin to heal itself through the kindness and generosity of others. Truckloads have been arriving from as close as Brooklyn and as far as Toronto, Los Angeles, and Texas. The response has been overwhelmingly gratifying but more is still needed. If you are in need of assistance, please register at nivneh.org and indicate your specific needs so that matters can be expedited for you as quickly and efficiently as possible.