Spirit of Helping Others Alive and Well in Houston

A car dealership is covered by Hurricane Harvey floodwaters near Houston, Texas, Tuesday. (Reuters/Rick Wilking)

Mrs. Masha Toybina, who immigrated to the U.S. and has been living in Houston for about 30 years, told Hamodia:

“Thank G-d, many organizations and individuals have jumped to our aid, working very hard to help people who are suffering due to the floods. They are doing truly amazing work. It seems that anyone who can is out there volunteering. People are coming here from Louisiana; Hatzalah people came from New York and Los Angeles. It’s heartwarming to see how many people are rushing to Houston to help us out.

“An emergency soup kitchen was set up at Aishel House [normally serving Texas Medical Center patients and their families] and the Chabad House also made an emergency soup kitchen which provides kosher food. Many volunteers are running to stores to do errands for people who cannot. Massive evacuation efforts are taking place, and many people whose homes are untouched have opened their homes to those who have lost their homes or had to evacuate.

“There are whatsapp groups and spreadsheets where you can sign in and say what you can do and what you can give. All kinds of supplies are needed — everything from food to diapers to towels to clothing to telephone use. People need to make calls. There’s a real need for hot cooked food, so people are cooking and baking at the Chabad House and other places. The cooking is going on nonstop around the clock. Others are out delivering, also nonstop.

“Others are busy trying to find out who needs help, who is stranded somewhere, and to bring food to them. There are two young men on a military truck who are rescuing people. The wife of one of them is fielding calls and connecting people needing rescue with the men on the truck. Almost 100 people were rescued by this one truck so far. They take them to shelters, to hotels, or to private people’s houses. It is uplifting to see all this.”

Peretz Golding, a chemist in Houston, told Hamodia:

“Our neighbors, a Jewish family, had their house flooded during the last flood, on Memorial Day two years ago, and when they rebuilt, they built their house five and a half feet higher than it was before. But now it got flooded anyway. Motzoei Shabbos when this whole thing started, a man was on his way home when the water got so high he couldn’t keep going, and he pulled into a parking lot and got stuck there. His phone died. On Sunday, about 20 hours later, two men in a rowboat went to find him. It took them two hours to get to him but they finally brought him to safety.”

Rebbetzin Chanie Lazaroff, Rebbetzin of Chabad of Uptown Houston for the past 15 years, told Hamodia: “There are people who have lost their homes or had to evacuate, and there are people still in their homes where the first floors are totally flooded and they are up on the second floor, but can’t get out of their houses. Today the roads are starting to clear up so we can finally get to more people than before.

“Hundreds of meals have gone out to stranded or newly homeless people, thanks to the tireless efforts of our volunteers. Last night, some volunteers left Chabad with a box of hot food at 11:45 p.m. and only reached their destination at 1:30 a.m. The people were so grateful to receive it. Often, volunteers have waded through several feet of water to get to the waiting hungry people.

“The hardest part until now has been reaching people in so much need. The sheer magnitude of the flood is unbelievable.

“One family that spent Shabbos at the Chabad House tried to go home and found they have no home; they have nothing at all but the shirts on their backs. A single girl was traveling and stopped here just for Shabbos; she’s still here, unable to get out. Another family with two small children was here at Chabad House for Shabbos; their house is flooded, they’re still here. A man who came from Miami for his job is still here and can’t get out. There are lots of families in hotels and in shelters and in other people’s homes, and it is almost impossible for them to get kosher food. The kosher stores and restaurants are all flooded.

“At this point [Tuesday afternoon, 4:00 p.m.], the water is slowly going down, but there’s still water at roof-level of some two-story homes. We had a mother and her four-month-old baby and she had no formula for the baby. Volunteers fanned out and went to several different places until they found the formula and brought it to her. There are volunteers of all types and stripes, all ages. Everyone is doing whatever they can.

“There are 11 Chabads in Houston; we’re all coordinating our efforts together.”

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