Displaying the level of responsiveness and sensitivity that has become its trademark, an email went out this week from Achiezer to the community announcing that additional funds were available to those still needing to make repair to their primary home, if that home was damaged because of Hurricane Sandy.
“We are aware that there are still many community members who are struggling and working as hard as they can to rebuild their homes and lives,” the email read. “If you require any sort of assistance, whether FEMA related, insurance related, confidential psychological/mental health needs or any other general assistance, please call our hotline so we can assist you.”
The additional funds are being made available by the Community Assistance Fund, administered in conjunction with the Davis Memorial Fund and Achiezer.
“For a lot of people, even if they got FEMA, it’s not what they thought it would be, and it’s very difficult,” said Rabbi Boruch Ber Bender, founder and president of Achiezer. Some baalei batim decided they could get out and raise more, and they did.
The help extends beyond money. “We are also trying to advocate with FEMA and insurance companies.” For the average person to speak to government agencies, contractors, attorneys, while dealing with the other stresses of coming back from displacement and having to rebuild, “it’s a nightmare…. We learned things we never thought we would know.”
Rabbi Bender noted that Achiezer received 1,196 new calls this past week, “one of the lowest weeks since the storm.”
“I would say that the intensity of the individual calls that is coming in is greater,” he notes. People are realizing that they don’t have the resources to rebuild, whether financial or psychological. For example, the caseload of Achiezer’s psychologist, Dr. Lowinger, has increased from two days a week to six.
“People are suffering more now because the world is moving on,” explains Rabbi Bender. “Two months ago it was easier in a sense; everyone was in the same boat. But now a lot of people are moving on. Those who haven’t been able to put themselves together or get the help they need are feeling overwhelmed.” In addition, some benefits, such as FEMA rent assistance, are ending, and people fear they will be homeless.
Rabbi Bender relates a story told by his father, Rabbi Yaakov Bender, Rosh Yeshivah of Yeshiva Darchei Torah. “When someone is sitting shivah, coping is easier. The whole world is there, and everyone’s involved. When shivah is over and everyone gradually returns to their lives, you are there with yourself, and you have to battle all alone. That’s what is happening now, too.”
All the volunteer efforts were and are extraordinary, but people have mostly gone back to their lives; victims are feeling very alone.
In order to make them feel that help is still there, to reach out to people who haven’t gotten the help they need, this initiative was begun, and should continue for a number of weeks
Life in the office, meanwhile, is returning to a new normal, much more intense than before the storm, but not as inundating as at the height of the crisis. Achiezer’s other many services are making up a greater percentage of the caseload.
“It’s on us right now,” Rabbi Bender says, noting that the case load of Achiezer’s dedicated employees, among them Mrs. Esther Novak and Mrs. Elke Rubin, has at least quadrupled. All the temporary crisis centers have closed, so people are coming to Achiezer.
“That’s what [people are] supposed to do, but it’s made the workload extremely heavy. We’re catching up, but the calls keep coming … but in the end we’ll be able to look back and feel good about what we did.”