Good morning everyone, we hope this finds you well. We apologize for the tardiness of this email but trying to post word on our recovery efforts with the current internet, which is spotty at best, is an exercise in futility. We thank you for your patience.
As you know on September 6th, 2017 St. Thomas and St. John, along with several nearby Caribbean islands were impacted by Hurricane Irma. The south wall of the eye of this category 5 hurricane swept across our shores and devastated both islands. Many lost roofs, some whole houses, losing everything they own. Some lost their lives. 13 days later on September 19th Hurricane Maria, ANOTHER category 5 storm, passed to the south of St. Thomas and north of St. Croix. What wasn’t taken by Hurricane Irma was taken by Hurricane Maria.
Here at the Hebrew Congregation of St. Thomas we’ve been working diligently to stay on top of the flood of emails and phone calls of well-wishers and needs-to-help not only from our own congregants but Chai members from all over the world.
Our website has collected a significant number of donations through the Hurricane Irma Relief Effort. Our President, Jeffrey Silverman has coordinated a trailer of supplies from Florida and was unloaded at a storage facility last Friday, October 13, 2017 to be distributed locally.
In addition, Julie Novick, Rabbi Feshbach’s wife is fund raising state-side and has received donations from the Katzen Foundation, Rodeph Shalom Congregation in NYC and she has met with the rabbis from Congregation Emanuel of the City of New York and Mishkan Israel of Hamden Connecticut. While she was in Connecticut she gave an interview on the local Connecticut NPR station to appeal for help.
Rabbi Feshbach continues to meet with many organizations locally including FEMA, The Red Cross, Salvation Army, the Rotary Club, and My Brother’s Workshop along with many of the other clergy members across the island. His former congregation of Temple Shalom in Chevy Chase, MD has been very generous with support through the HIRE fund and Mickvah Israel of Georgia is sending supplies. His initial appeal letter after Hurricane Irma was read aloud to at least 30 congregations across North America over the High Holidays and at one in particular in Florida after the letter was read a woman stood up and said, “That’s my nephew!” Clearly a proud Aunt. These appeals prompted offers of support through dozens of congregations and hundreds of individuals.
Last week we sent out a Congregant Need Assessment Form via email and as of Friday Agi Rampino has finished calling everyone in our congregation for this information. If you did not receive a phone call or if Agi is waiting to hear back from you please call her on her cell phone at 340-690-4019.
In order to fill these needs and then the needs of the community across the island we have assembled a committee in order to distribute the extraordinary number of donations and supplies that we have received. This committee includes:
- Rabbi Michael Feshbach
- Agi Rampino, Distribution Coordinator – now on hiatus from the Gift Shop because of a lack of tourism, Agi is giving her time to lead our Committee. In the past she has co-chaired the Social Action Committee with Alex Laing and is now using her experience to lead our distribution efforts.
- Stella Minion, Administrative and Life Cycle Coordinator - is working with families who had Destination Life Cycle Events that have been cancelled and trying to reschedule. She is also working diligently in assessing the damage to the auction items in our warehouse.
- Amy Ogden, Communication and Financial Coordinator is working on processing the thousands of donations and working hard to get word out about distribution efforts
- Lou Minion – Board Treasurer is guiding us with financial decisions and budgeting
With this outpouring of generosity along with the first shipment of supplies we’ve already we’ve been able to fill congregant needs from the Assessment Form mentioned above and we’ve been able to donate to the following groups just in the last three days:
- Joseph Sibilly Elementary School
- Bethlehem House
- Nana Babies
- Family Resource Center
- Ulla Miller Elementary School
This Friday, October 20th we will be working with The Rotary Club, Indian Association and My Brother’s Workshop to distribute some of these much needed supplies in the Anna’s Retreat Area. A separate email will follow with a call for volunteers to meet at the warehouse on Friday morning at 8am to load supplies and meet up with the other groups at 9:15am. If you are able we could certainly use some extra hands and a few extra cars/trucks to carry supplies.
Every week going forward we will keep you updated with our recovery process, call for volunteers and pictures to show our progress. There’s still so much to do and so many people without homes and jobs who have lost everything but this was a great start and it’s thanks to all of you.
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Our mailing address is:
The Hebrew Congregation of St. Thomas
PO Box 266
St. Thomas, Virgin Islands00802
Virgin Islands (U.S.)