Seeking a way to assist Hurricane Sandy victims, Carol Blumenthal and other members of the Reconstructionist Synagogue of The North Shore in Plandome also helped a community find its calling.
That calling came in the form of home-cooked meals, emotional support and more for AmeriCorps St. Louis Emergency Response team members, many of whom first arrived on Long Island Nov. 1. The team “mucks and guts” homes damaged by Sandy so that contractors can come in and repair them.
Wanting to make a difference, Blumenthal, a Roslyn resident, and fellow synagogue member June Pitkow, of East Meadow, went to the Long Island Voluntary Organization Active in Disaster in Bethpage, where they met Will Burks, who heads up the AmeriCorps St. Louis Emergency Response team.
“I found out they were eating dehydrated meals, and thought we could help,” Blumenthal said.
Blumenthal and Pitkow got to work, rallying synagogue members to seek donations from local markets and restaurants, and to cook and deliver fresh dinners on a daily basis. It’s an effort that’s been ongoing since early January, with community members committed to bringing hot meals to the government-supplied housing near Nassau Community College where the AmeriCorps members are staying.
On Saturdays, the volunteers pick up donated food from Whole Foods in Manhasset. Other local businesses have also provided food, including The Meat House in Roslyn, Prime Time Butcher in Roslyn, Mama Theresa in New Hyde Park, Subway on Willis Avenue in Roslyn, Abeetza Pizza in Glen Cove, and more, Blumenfeld said.
Helping the effort are members of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Shelter Rock, spearheaded by Claire Deroche.
“It’s meant the world,” said AmeriCorps team member Dorothy Maples, who is originally from Joplin, Missouri. “It gives a sense of home. We’re eating something good and healthy and getting the love of family even if we can’t be with our own.”
Blumenthal and her crew saw to it that the housing – which featured heat, cots, a kitchen and little else – is now stocked with dishes and flatware.
They also provided access to counseling, as some members of the congregation are clinicians, Blumenthal said.
Port Washington resident and school psychologist Susan Liberstein, in speaking with the AmeriCorps team members, found out that they also would benefit from access to recreation, and was able to arrange it so that they could use gym facilities at Nassau Community College and Eisenhower Park. The team now also has playing cards, skateboards and soccer balls.
While there are AmeriCorp teams and individuals who volunteer with the organization across the country, the St. Louis team has 30 members, ages 18-33. They rotate in and out depending on the needs of a community, said Sara Levine, 24. As their work here winds down on Long Island, many this week will likely head back to St. Louis, where they do a lot of conservation work to help prevent wildfires and protect natural habibat.
The hot meals will continue as long as AmeriCorps volunteers remain on Long Island, Blumenthal said.
Providing for the AmeriCorp team has given RSNS members a sense of purpose.
“I just needed to do something,” said synagogue member Judy Levine, during a Shabbat service that followed a dinner at the synagogue honoring the AmeriCorps team. “I felt helpless. Thank you so much for doing things I couldn’t do.”
That sentiment seemed to run full-circle.
“We’re happy to be here, and glad we could help,” Levine said.