A poem in the awesome new Akedah-focused issue of Sh'ma
How to return: Heschel on death (in the season of teshuvah)

Hurricane Irene: how to help

This blog post is a variation on the letter I'll be sending to members and friends of my congregation tomorrow. I don't know whether y'all who read this blog are able to contribute toward hurricane relief efforts; your charitable giving may be tapped-out elsewhere, and if so, no worries. But if you can give, please do.

The devastation caused by Hurricane Irene has been tremendous. My congregation is joining together with other Northern Berkshire faith communities to help to ensure that those who have been impacted by the hurricane get the help they need. Below you will find information on the current local situation, information on how to give, and information on what is most needed locally.

I've also inclosed information on how to donate to the relief fund for residents of The Spruces in Williamstown (the local elder community / trailer park which was flooded) and how to donate to the Brattleboro Area Jewish Community, as well as how to donate to three national hurricane relief funds: funds established by B'nai Brith, the Red Cross, and the Union for Reform Judaism.

Our first concern needs to be caring for those who are in crisis. I hope that once these immediate needs are met, we can also begin a larger communal conversation about how to create affordable housing and how to care for those who are most at-risk in northern Berkshire even when a hurricane isn't wreaking havoc.

May we be God's compassionate hands on earth during these difficult days.


More than 220 residences at the Spruces trailer park have been at least temporarily condemned. All of the trailers have been inspected; some cannot be entered or salvaged, many have structural damage, and all will need electrical work before they can be inhabited again. No one knows how long the ~300 residents of the Spruces will be homeless.

There is now a disaster assistance relief center at Williamstown elementary school. There, helpers can take information from the victims of this storm, and help them get connected with services that are available to them, including mental health services. It's open 9-4 Monday-Friday (not weekends or Labor Day.) Temporary shelter is available, thanks to the Red Cross, at St. John's Episcopal church on Park Street, though they can only take people, not pets. The folks at the Red Cross shelter can also refer people to needed agencies.

Gail Burns, the administrator at the First Congregational Church in Williamstown, is acting as temporary coordinator for getting services to those who need immediate help. She's orchestrating food vouchers, gas vouchers, requests for clothing or linen, and hopefully, matching shelter with people. If you are able to donate food money (or grocery store gift cards -- an especially welcome gift), gas money, money for housing, clothing / linens, or other sundries (toiletries, etc), all of these are welcome. You can call her at FCC at 413-458-4273 between 9am and 3:30pm.

The Tenants Association of the Spruces has set up a fund at South Adams savings bank which is now receiving contributions. (Information on where to direct donations is below.) Soon we hope there will also be a fund at Williamstown Savings Bank.

If refugees want others to know they are ok, they can register themselves at www.safeandwell.com

The Salvation Army's MA headquarters has offered to Williamstown up to 80 cots, blankets and a canteen to help feed those in need. As soon as Williamstown finds a building in which to lodge refugees, they'll be able to take advantage of that offer from the Salvation Army.

St. Patrick's Catholic Church is opening their pantry; food donations are welcome there, as are donations of clothing. Both will be accepted there on Friday 9/2 from 1-3pm, and hopefully at other times also.

The Red Cross shelter at St. John's Episcopal Church has been feeding about 20 people a night, using food donated by various restaurants. If you want to sponsor a meal (by paying for it to be catered, or by cooking the food yourself), contact Harriet at the shelter, or call Madeline at the St. John's office.

The Northern Berkshire clergy are working together and are hoping to come up with the funding to pay someone to coordinate general disaster relief efforts in the community; stay tuned for more information on that soon.
There will be a prayer service for those impacted by Irene, especially the displaced residents of the Spruces, at 4pm on Sunday, September 4, at First Congregational Church, 900 Main Street, in Williamstown. People of all faiths are welcome. Dinner will follow, provided by Williams College.


The Spruces Tenants Association is assembling a fund for repairs and rebuilding. (see Tenants at The Spruces Face an Uncertain Future.) Contributions can be sent to:

        Spruces Tenants Association,
         memo: disaster relief,
         c/o South Adams Savings Bank
         273 Main St., Williamstown, MA 01267

Our neighbors in southern Vermont were also hard hit by the storm. The homes, farms and businesses of nearly a dozen members of the Brattleboro Area Jewish Community were damaged or destroyed by flooding. The local synagogue is collecting donations to help their congregants with recovery efforts.

Donate online or mail a check to:

      Brattleboro Area Jewish Community
      Attn: Families in Need Fund
      PO Box 2353
      Brattleboro, VT 05303

ETA: If you're comfortable donating via cellphone: text FOODNOW to 52000; your $10 donation will be increased to a $60 donation to food pantries in VT.

ETA: The congregation in Woodstock, VT, was hard-hit as well. They are asking for shipments of non-perishables that can be distributed to their congregants:

       Congregation Shir Shalom
       P.O. Box 526
       Woodstock, Vermont 05091

B'nai B'rith International has established a hurricane relief fund to aid those affected by the storm. Donate online or mail a check to:

      B'nai B'rith International Disaster Relief Fund
      Attn: Hurricane Irene Disaster Relief Fund
      2020 K Street NW, 7th Floor
      Washington, DC 20006

The Union for Reform Judaism has also opened a hurricane relief fund to assist with recovery. Donate online or mail a check to:

      Hurricane Relief Fund
      Union for Reform Judaism
      633 Third Ave.
      New York, NY 10017

As always, you can also give to the American Red Cross to help with disaster relief efforts around the country. Donate online or mail a check to:

      Disaster Relief
      American Red Cross
      PO Box 4002018
      Des Moines, IA 50340-2018

ETA: here's a more recent post from me about how to help those in my local community who were impacted by the storm.