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How Hurricane Ian Tested Us

December 8, 2022

By Mia

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Whether it’s a security threat, antisemitic vandalism or a natural disaster, emergencies are frightening, disorienting and isolating. They test the strength of a community.

You may not think of The Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee as an emergency response organization, but while Hurricane Ian was still flooding our region and our staff was still living in the dark, our Federation was already leveraging the knowledge, relationships and expertise of our professionals and volunteers to help our community recover.

As soon as the hurricane passed us, Kim Adler, our Chief Operating Officer, led a “hurricane needs assessment” of every local congregation, Chabad center and Jewish organization. We also reached out to the Federation CEOs of the hardest hit areas — Fort Myers and Naples.

As soon as they had phone service, dozens of community members offered to help. They made more than 300 calls to members of our community in the hardest-hit areas to make sure they were safe and to offer support. We also supported a “Challah bake” to comfort 150 of those displaced and distressed to our south.

We utilized key relationships to advocate with Comcast to restore Internet service in time for our synagogues to share Yom Kippur services over Zoom, and we organized volunteers to help Temple Beth Sholom clear fallen tree branches that would have blocked congregants from attending services.

We had the Federation designated as an official collection site, and the first donations came from the State of Israel’s Consul General, who drove them from Miami. We also launched a Hurricane Ian Relief Fund donation page on our website. Generous community members contributed more than $16,000 in the first week. That enabled us to immediately issue checks to the organizations and congregations that sustained damage and to community members in crisis.

During emergencies, more than 100 Federations and our umbrella organization, Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), act together to coordinate all kinds of help. As soon as I could receive text messages, I began reading texts from my colleagues from other Federations – “anything you need.” And they weren’t kidding. The Palm Beach Jewish Federation’s CEO called me and said he and his Board decided to wire us $50,000 immediately and had total confidence that we would use and grant the funds where most needed.

I told my JFNA colleagues that Aviva Senior Living not only cared for, comforted and protected their normal 350 residents, they also took in another 250 who were forced to evacuate their homes.  And they did this for more than two days with only emergency power. The day after I told my JFNA colleagues what Aviva did, they sent me $15,000 to help Aviva recover.

I’m proud that our community members showed up to help even before their own lives were put back together. And kept helping. That alone gives us a good grade on the test of a strong community.

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