Rolling Up Our Sleeves

Doing what it does best — raising awareness, raising funds, responding to urgent needs in the community and mobilizing volunteers — the Detroit Jewish Federation has called for help in the wake of The Great Flood of 2014.

Had a hurricane hit Detroit, it is conceivable that it could have done as much damage as the rogue storm — a record rainfall that flooded the city on August 11th. The numbers are still pouring in, but it is estimated that about 90,000 people and 35,000 homes across metro Detroit were affected as rainwater flooded streets and cars, and surged into basements.

Underwater and overwhelmed

In Oak Park, Southfield and Huntington Woods, in the heart of the Jewish community, the damage has been devastating. Even now, more than two weeks after the waters have receded, as residents have pitched mountains of possessions, waterlogged furniture, appliances and debris, the work towards restoration has only just begun.

Working in partnership with Jewish Family Service, the Jewish Community Center and other communal organizations, the national Jewish Response to Disaster organization Nechama (Hebrew for comfort) has deployed a team of volunteers from around the country to lead local volunteers in the massive cleanup effort that many residents still face.

“Just because you’ve gotten your possessions out, doesn’t mean you’re done,” explains Dan Hoeft, Nechama Operations Manager in Detroit. “What people don’t always realize is that we have to open up the basement walls down to the studs – strip paneling and drywall — because we don’t want to see a mold problem.”

Boots on the ground

To answer the current need in the community, Nechama estimates it will take an army of volunteers — more than 50 a day for the next 30 days. Volunteers are prepped and equipped for work, including:

  • Bagging and hauling debris
  • Mopping and sanitizing floors and walls
  • Tearing-down flood-damaged walls, paneling, doors

“If there’s a silver lining in all this, it’s knowing we have a great team in a combined effort to deliver much needed relief to the community,” says Federation Chief Executive Scott Kaufman. “To date, we’ve had an outpouring of help from generous donors, our partner agencies, as well as volunteers ready to roll up their sleeves, dig in and clean up.”

Flood Relief Update: Who to Call to Get Help or Assist

  • Jewish Family Service is the overall Project Manager and Intake Source, providing financial assistance and all referrals to flood victims through the Jewish Assistance Network (JAN) line at 248-592-2650. The line is operating on an extended hourly basis, daily from 8 AM to 8 PM, and on Sundays from 9 AM to 5 p.m.
  • To date, dozens of households have been processed and referred to Nechama through Jewish Family Service and its network, with over 100 requests awaiting service.
  • Hebrew Free Loan has extended its loan assistance and accelerated its routine application requirements to get support to people more quickly.
  • Yeshiva Beth Yehudah, Jewish Senior Life, the Jewish Community Center of Metropolitan Detroit and Congregation Beth Shalom have provided hands-on assistance to flood victims and to support the work of volunteers.
  • Detroit Jewish Chesed Project, is assisting members of the community in replacing items lost in the flood, securing new bedding, appliances, carpeting and housewares.
  • Local businesses and contractors are working to recruit crews and provide services and equipment to begin restoring normalcy.
  • Government assistance: Local advocates at the city and state level are working to expedite government funding and to remove debris from the streets.
  • Philanthropic funds secured to date are close to $1 million through individual donors as well as from foundations such as the Urgent Needs Fund, The Jewish Fund and the Jewish Women’s Foundation.  The Detroit Federation also has submitted a request for support from Jewish Federations of North America, (JFNA).

“Remember what you’re ‘paid’ and do only what you can do safely,” Dan Hoeft reminds the two dozen volunteers reporting for work at 9 a.m. on a Sunday at the corner of Dartmouth and Sussex in Oak Park. “We all do this work for free, but we can only do it with volunteer support and we appreciate everyone coming out to help however they can.”