Yesterday afternoon the first national Federation ground team arrived in Houston and got to work supporting the local Federation and community. Their immediate focus is on building a comprehensive picture of needs, moving quickly on the highest priority issues, developing a system for the barrage of volunteers already descending on the city, etc… I thought it would be helpful to you to share a quick update from our late night debriefing:
Spirits are generally high in the community. Houston has been through floods before so they have a handle on what to do and a can-do attitude. But things are moving slowly as they are overwhelmed, exhausted. There are pockets of amazing energy. The one functional space at the JCC, their tennis center, has been reorganized as a major collection and distribution center for donated goods and there is a steady stream of donations being dropped off - any kind of household goods that people might need – and a steady stream of people in need carrying stuff away. A major volunteer day is planned for Sunday to match people want to help muck out flooded houses with people who need that help.
Lee Wunsch, our colleague in Houston, was very emotional yesterday afternoon when we told him the first $500K in funds had been wired to their account.
Major problems already surfaced to address:
B’nai Jeshurun Conservative Day School Building Wiped Out - The major Conservative synagogue which also houses the day school is totaled. The school is a total loss. They are scrambling to find a place to relocate the school to open. We are working with the community to identify alternative places to operate.
JCC Pre-School Badly Damaged – The JCC pre-school is in a similar situation and we are working here too to find an alternative place for them to open in a week.
Day Camps - Schools are not opening this week so there is a desire to extend the day camps that are operating now so kids have a place to be and parents can do what they need to do.
Home Damage Assessment – We do not yet have a count on how many homes in the Jewish community were flooded. There are some distinctively Jewish neighborhoods that were very hard hit. There is one Orthodox synagogue where 90% of the congregants have been flooded out. This is a crucial piece of info we’ll be trying to nail down over the next days.
Annual campaign launch - They usually launch at the holidays. It is not clear how much the local staff and leadership will be able to focus on this very much in the next few weeks. We are identifying resources that can help make sure they can launch.
The costs are going to mount quickly beyond the kinds of funds we've raised so far. We need to focus on escalating the response of our system on the needs. The next few days where our team can help Houston wrap their arms and build the case are going to be crucial. We will likely convene an execs call as early possible next week where we can lay out a comprehensive picture of needs. By the way, we have the records from Katrina, community by community, of the $30M+ our system generated. Let me know if you want that figure for your community to help your leadership benchmark against that experience. We will be sending reports asap of what we have received from donors in your communities with lists of donors.
Anything you can do going into the weekend to boost your efforts to keep this in front of your leadership and donors will be critical.
We have put a great team on the ground and they are already having a big impact! In the next day or so we’ll have a handle on what kinds of resource people need to go in next and in the weeks beyond. Thanks to those of you who have already offered.
Executive Vice President
Jewish Federations of North America
25 Broadway 17th Floor, Suite 1700
New York NY 10004