Differences Wash Aside In Chabad's Iowa Flood Relief

Differences Wash Aside In Chabad's Iowa Flood Relief

Chabad of Iowa works with the Red Cross to bring relief to flood victims.

by Rebecca Rosenthal - Birdland, Iowa

June 30, 2008

(lubavitch.com) News crew trucks have reeled in their satellite feeds and driven off to the next big story, but Iowans spent the weekend dragging the remains of their waterlogged homes to the curb, coping with the aftermath of the 2008 floods.

At 9:45 p.m. Valerie Cohen was still walking the aisles of Sam’s Club, searching for kosher applesauce. As the coordinator of Chabad’s Flood Relief program, Cohen had to purchase supplies for the 230 packages needed for the next morning’s deliveries.

Chabad distributed over 5000 meals to flood victims last week. Now, the supplies donated in the initial outpouring of help are dwindling, and the needs of the flood victims are mounting. Food remains high on the priority list, but cleaning supplies, clothing and household goods are needed as residents start their lives over.

“We are going to get through the weekend, but we need to be fiscally able to continue,” Cohen said.

Michael Farah, CEO of Berry Chill, a probiotic frozen yogurt franchise in Chicago, has marshaled a truckload of clothing, cleaning supplies and water. Farah is a University of Iowa alumni, and he was moved to make a difference when his mother Judith Franks-Farah, R.N., told him of Chabad’s relief effort.

“We want to reach out and help,” said Franks-Farah who heard the call for aid at Lubavitch Chabad of Illinois during Sabbath services.

Rabbi Yossi Jacobson, director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Iowa said the floodwaters forged unlikely partners. “It really brought together the community. People are proud that a Jewish organization is taking a hands-on role in the relief efforts. It’s been a true triumph of love and unity.”

Shortly after Rabbi Jacobson spoke to Lubavitch.com, a crowd of Baptist church members in Chabad's Maccabee Deli filled bags with sandwiches, applesauce containers, water and granola bars for the day’s shipment. Concerned citizens of Australia, Israel and the United States donated at the www.ChabadFloodRelief.com.

Rotella Italian Bakery, Sam’s Club, Loffredo Fresh Product and other local retailers have kept the food packages going. AgriProcessors Inc. donated all the meat used in the packages. 

Most of Chabad’s deliveries have been focused on the Birdland neighborhood. Two hundred homes and thirty-five businesses were swamped with water when the levee breached on June 14. There is no significant Jewish population in Birdland.

On Thursday, one Birdland resident, his arms covered tattoos from shoulder to wrist, glanced at the food package’s label and asked what “Chabad” was. Taking in the answer, a look of surprise crossed his face. “You’re giving these meals out for free? My father taught me that Jews are only looking for money.”

“Well, we are,” Cohen replied. “We’re collecting money so we can feed you and your neighbors.”

Driving off on a road so coated with sand from busted sandbags no asphalt showed through, Cohen considered the exchange. “I knew at that moment that he was someone we needed to meet.”

As the meal distribution continues, it’s become obvious to Lubavitch of Iowa that changes of heart are part of the relief effort. The day after the Des Moines Register published an account of Chabad’s work in Maccabee Deli, a new customer appeared at the door before the start of business. Cohen let him in and took his order for a corned beef sandwich. 

He took the sandwich in hand and plunked $30 on the counter, telling Cohen to put the change toward flood relief. “I never knew about this deli before, but I am glad you’re here.”

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