Archive for : Homelessness

It’s Coat Drive Time! Help Keep Others Warm This Winter

Unless you are lucky enough to live in California or another warm and sunny locale, winter can get pretty chilly! And for too many Americans across the country, winter also brings the painful choice between paying rent and putting food on the table, or buying adequate winter coats for themselves and their families.

This year, with the recession continuing to put an extra strain on families, and many families on the East Coast still suffering from losses after Hurricane Sandy, we think there’s a need for a little extra warm stuff. Fortunately, there’s something you can do. Got a new or gently used extra coat in your closet? Instead of letting it hang around collecting moth balls, put it to good use in a local coat drive that redistributes gently used gear to those in need.

According to New York Cares, “90% of homeless adults need a new, warm coat each winter because they have no place to keep one over the summer months.” That means, coat drives play an important role every year in making sure everyone has equal access to warm clothing during the colder months. Here are a few coat drive opportunities across the country:

  • New York Cares’ Coat Drive: Help this New York City-based organization collect 200,000 winter coats through December 31 to help New York City families who are living in poverty keep warm.
  • One Warm Coat: This national organization helps individuals and local charities organize coat drives for men, women and children in need. They’ve helped distribute close to 3 million coats since 1992. Help them do even more!
  • Clothes4Souls: This national clothing donation organization teamed up with outdoor retailer, The North Face, this holiday season. Through December 24, bring your gently used clothing and coats to participating North Face retail locations and help give the gift of warmth.

There are too many local coat drives across the country to list them all – so we’re counting on YOU! Do you know about a local coat drive in your neighborhood or city? Let us know by tweeting @repairtheworld.

8 Nights of Sandy Service: Donate your Apartment through AirBnB

Welcome to Repair the World’s 8 Nights of Sandy Service: volunteer projects, donation opportunities and tikkun olam ideas for the week of Hanukkah to help the individuals and communities impacted by Hurricane Sandy. Keep track of all 8 nights here.

Hurricane Sandy devastated thousands of homes and apartment buildings across the eastern seaboard, leaving the families living in them without a place to stay. Some folks have friends or family to take them in until they figure out their next step. Unfortunately not everyone is so lucky. More than a month after the storm, nearly a thousand people still do not have a place to call home. And since most of New York City’s temporary evacuation facilities have now been closed, many of these people have to stay in hotels, upping financial and logistical hardships.

This Hanukkah, help out by offering a Sandy-stranded person a warm and cozy place to stay – your house! AirBnB, an online service that matches people seeking vacation rentals with hosts that have extra room, teamed up with NYC.gov to encourage potential hosts to offer free space (a couch, a guest bedroom, or a whole apartment) to people left homeless by the hurricane.

More than 1400 people have listed their apartments under AirBnB’s Sandy matching service. Their spaces are listed online with information about the available room, and a big $0 price tag where the price typically goes. (Like all AirBnB rentals, the terms and length of a stay are entirely up to the host, and safety is a priority – find out more here.)

If you’re able, join AirBnB and NYC.gov’s inspiring efforts, and open your home to someone in need. If you are not able, or don’t live in the tri-state area, you can also make a donation to help victims via Mayor Bloomberg’s Hurricane Relief Fund – 100% of proceeds go to relief organizations doing on-the-ground work.

Find more ideas for how to help people impacted by Hurricane Sandy in short and longer-term ways, and bring a bit of Hanukkah’s light into the storm’s darkness here.

Meet Laura Kassen!

Meet Laura Kassen, our Education Campaign Fellow and AVODAH Corps Member! We asked Laura a few questions about her decision to join AVODAH, and her work with Repair: 

Why did you decide to serve with AVODAH this year?

In December 2011, during the fall semester of my senior year in college, I was forced to face “reality.” After constantly being asked various forms of the question “What are you doing next year?” I decided to bulk down and actually figure it out…or at least come up with something I could say in response. At one point I was so overwhelmed with the process that my go-to answer became making up various professions and telling something different to each person who asked. Many people may actually think that I am becoming an astronaut or a professional fortune-cookie writer—I apologize that neither one of these is true, but in my opinion I am doing something way more exciting.

I knew that I wanted to work in some capacity at a non-profit organization, particularly in the Jewish world. I also have always had a strong interest in education and education reform. While perusing Idealist.org, I stumbled upon all these job opportunities that sounded amazing. Then I noticed that they all had something in common—they were all AVODAH placement organizations.

I spent time doing research on AVODAH’s website, talking to Corps members and participating in informational conference calls. AVODAH seemed like it would be a great opportunity to do meaningful work after college. I was excited about the possibility of working at a highly effective non-profit, while living in a communal environment, and engaging in learning opportunities that would help me become an agent for social change. I thought AVODAH would be a great way for me to learn from my peers and help me gain an understanding of what I’d like to do in the future. So in January 2012 I applied to AVODAH, and in May I was thrilled to learn that my placement organization would be Repair the World!

What excited you about serving at Repair the World?

I was super excited (and still am!) about becoming a part of an organization whose mission is something I really value. I have always been proud of my Judaism and interested in service, so it was thrilling to find an organization that seeks to truly connect these two important facets of my life and make them a defining aspect of American Jewish life. I am excited to spread the word about Repair the World and help the organization flourish.

What are you looking forward to this year?

I am looking forward to learning more about structure, and what goes on “behind the scenes” at a non-profit organization. I feel like Repair the World is a great place to do this because it is growing rapidly in terms of outreach, resources and education. I am also looking forward to applying what I learn through AVODAH to my work at Repair the World, whether it be by hearing from my fellow Corps members or learning something during our educational programming.

What would you say to college seniors who might be thinking about doing a year of service post-graduation?

I say if you are able to commit to a year of service, I would definitely encourage you to go for it. A year of service has really put things into perspective for me. I have had the opportunity to learn so much about myself, about social justice, and a wide-spectrum of unique opinions and ideas. And if you cannot dedicate a whole year to doing service, try to become involved in other capacities. Volunteer with your friends on weekends, read up on social inequalities, and attend events with topics related to social justice. You may find something that really grabs your attention!

How do you see this year informing your future career plans?

I think both my experience at Repair the World and AVODAH will help me figure out what I would like to do in my professional career. I hope that I will be fortunate enough to find something that combines all of my interests, and even if I don’t I would like to find out other opportunities to stay involved. I am very excited to grow professionally, expand my interests, and do my part to help with Repair the World’s mission.

Laura Kassen is from Westport, Connecticut. She attended Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, where she was an American Studies major and History minor.

 

Hurricane Sandy and the Homeless Community

Post by  Jamie H. Silverstein, Special Projects Manager, Office of the CEO, Repair the World

Hurricane Sandy was not selective when it came to wreaking havoc on communities. The physical and emotional impact of the storm was felt in wealthy suburban neighborhoods, seaside towns, government-sponsored housing developments, and even colleges and universities. Even as I obsessively monitored the news all week (once my power was restored) there seemed to be one prominent New York City community that was not making the headlines—New York’s homeless population.

The Saturday following Hurricane Sandy, I accompanied 25 Jewish high school students from Temple Sinai of Bergen County (http://www.templesinaibc.org/community/community-youth-program) on their volunteer program with Midnight Run, a 28-year-old organization dedicated to finding common ground between the housed and the homeless.

Even though this event drew a large number of volunteers, a few mentioned that their families were uncomfortable with their participation given the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, especially since many of their homes were still without power or heat. But those individuals believed their help and supplies were needed now more than ever—canceling was not an option. I wholeheartedly agreed.

Many volunteers felt compelled to volunteer regularly because “it is the right thing to do,” while others referenced a human obligation to help those in need. I was particularly impressed by one teen whose passion for serving others stems from Judaism’s commandment to focus on the “here and now” and give to others what they may not be able to give to themselves.

The teens first had dinner with two representatives from the Interfaith Assembly on Homelessness and Housing, a 20 year old organization that addresses the crisis of homelessness and the shortage of affordable housing through empowerment programs and a network of faith-based advocacy partners. These two formerly homeless women left the teens nearly speechless as they began to realize how very different their lives are from so many people living just a few miles away.

Our first three Midnight Run stations, which normally attract upwards of 20 homeless individuals, were deserted. Our guide went searching for some of the “regulars” but only one or two men visited our bus—a clear sign of Hurricane Sandy’s trail. Members of the homeless community had either relocated uptown or took advantage of one of the many open storm shelters. Oddly, it appeared that many of the city’s homeless were displaced.

In further irony, the last two distribution points we visited around 1:00am were merely four blocks from my office in midtown and proved to be the most popular. During the day, this area is typically buzzing with tourists, commuters, construction sites, food carts, and more. While it was much quieter than usual, the streets began filling with activity once our big yellow school bus showed up. With the infamous Herald Square Macy’s directly behind us, we scrambled to distribute the bagged meals, maintain a constant flow of hot chocolate, and search our clothing bins to find jeans, coats, and warm socks, items in high demand as the temperatures drop.

Hurricane Sandy provided a common ground for the evening’s conversations. Just as we were curious about how one is impacted by a destructive storm when one is already homeless, the homeless community was just as concerned about our safety and the effects of the storm on our families, especially once they heard we were from New Jersey. Sandy’s wrath was just as diverse within the homeless community as it was in other affected areas. Several individuals were not terribly inconvenienced by the storm—it was life as usual. Others explained that because their typical refuge during rain and snow inside the NYC subway system was severely impacted, their main method of transportation and warmth had suddenly vanished.

The two groups also discussed the then upcoming presidential election. Contrary to the teen’s assumptions, many members of the homeless community are registered and planned to cast their vote. In fact, some said the temporary tents in still powerless areas may even help increase homeless community voter turnout.

As we pulled into the temple parking lot around 2am, the teens had mixed emotions. They were disappointed that they did not get to interact with more members of the homeless community, but also very excited that they were able to help many individuals, especially during an increased period of need. A few of the volunteers and homeless had recognized each other from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion’s soup kitchen, which the teens volunteered at two weeks prior. The unexpected weaving of networks left both the homeless individuals and volunteers surprised and appreciative.

In closing, we also learned that donations and supplies for the homeless community have decreased as a result of the storm. Food pantries that were flooded or without power were forced to throw out their supplies and shipments of blankets and hygiene products are being redirected to disaster relief agencies, understandably so. However, this is leaving organizations that rely on donations regularly with less and less.

It is critical that those who can donate either time or resources continue to supply both much-needed emergency aid to victims of Hurricane Sandy while simultaneously ensuring that ongoing service providers are able to replenish and maintain their programs. These programs may in fact be needed by many of the Sandy victims in the coming weeks and months as we move from recovery to rebuilding. It is our duty as Jews, neighbors, and global citizens to ensure both can be successful.

For more information about the organizations mentioned above or to find out how you can get involved in Hurricane Sandy relief efforts, please visit the following websites:

Repair the World’s Hurricane Sandy Help Now Website: https://www.werepair.org/blog/hurricane-sandy-how-to-help-now/16170 

@repairtheworld

 

Temple Sinai of Bergen County: www.templesinaibc.org  

Interfaith Assembly on Homelessness and Housing: www.iahh.org

Midnight Run: www.midnightrun.org

Spotlight on: Youth Homelessness During National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week

It may not be immediately apparent when walking down the street, but youth (both children and teens) are all too common victims of homelessness. In fact, whether it’s the child of a family that lost their home, a victim of domestic abuse, or a teen who has run away from an unstable situation, an estimated 50,000 youth end each day with nowhere to call home.

This week is National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week – seven days dedicated to raising consciousness about America’s homeless population. Jewish tradition reminds us that we as a community have an obligation to care for the orphan, the widow, and the stranger – in other words, people in need. In that spirit, make this the week you get involved: Here are five organizations working to curb youth homelessness across the country and in Israel, and an opportunity for you to make a difference with each:

    • Homes for the Homeless. Based in New York City, this organization helps families, including children, transition from living in a shelter to independence. Click here to volunteer with one of HFH’s summer camps, or another program.
    • Teen Feed. This Seattle-based organization engages volunteers in offering meals, support and services to homeless youth and teens. Find out more here and sign up to become a meal team volunteer here.
    • Ali Forney Center. This organization’s mission is to “protect LGBTQ youth from the harm of homelessness.” Click here to find out how to donate toiletries, bedding, clothes and other items for one of their drop-in centers.
    • My Friend’s Place. Based in Los Angeles, this organization works to inspire homeless youth to build self-sufficient lives. Click here to download a volunteer registration form, which will enable you to serve at their Safe Haven facility.

Shanti. First opened in 1984, this Israel-based organization serves as a “temporary home as well as a long-term framework for runaway and street youth ages 14-21, regardless of religion, race, sex or gender.” Donate to support their work here.

Find out how to plug into an event for National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week here. Know about another organization doing great work to fight against the cycle of youth homelessness? Let us know in the comments below or by tweeting @repairtheworld.

Thanksgiving Volunteer Opp: Everything But the Turkey with the Washington DC JCC

Washington DC people, take note! This November 19th and 21st the Washington DCCJCC is hosting their “Everything but the Turkey” event – an annual volunteer opportunity that brings together 500 volunteers to prep Thanksgiving side dishes for the city’s hungry and homeless population. The program, which is in it’s 12th year, works closely with DC Central Kitchen, one of the city’s leading anti-hunger organizations, to make a real difference in the community.

Erica Steen, the DCJCC’s Director of Community Engagement, took some time to talk with Repair the World about what it’s like to prep Thanksgiving dinner for 6,500 people, and why volunteers shouldn’t wait to sign up.

What exactly is Everything But the Turkey?
It’s an annual event where we partner with DC Central Kitchen to prepare Thanksgiving dinner for all of the homeless shelters and low-income community organizations in the city. They make all the turkeys and we make all the side dishes. Every year more than 500 volunteers join us the Monday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving to prepare the dishes.

Amazing! How many people does the program feed, and what’s on the menu?
There are 100 different shelters in the area that feed approximately 6,500 hungry people a full Thanksgiving dinner. In addition to turkey, which DC Central Kitchen makes, we prepare green bean casserole, sweet potatoes, coleslaw, stuffing and a harvest salad, which includes beans and corn.

What do people do while volunteering?
The volunteers are involved in all aspects of food prep. We organize tables of eight and each table is given one recipe and all the supplies and ingredients they need to make that recipe multiple times. Over the course of the two days we make approximately 12,000-15,000 servings of food. Because we have volunteers who come with their children, we also make snacks for an after school program that DC Central Kitchen runs.

How do you keep track of all that food?
It’s a lot of team work! We have our own staff and DC Central Kitchen also sends representatives who help volunteers pack up trays and make sure things run smoothly. There’s even someone at the door tallying up the completed trays as they leave the kitchen. The process is made somewhat simpler because we do not cook anything at the JCC. We do the cold prep and then wrap up the dishes in clearly marked aluminum trays. They are then packed into a cooler van and delivered to DC Central Kitchen. A couple of the dishes like the coleslaw and harvest salad are good to serve as-is, but anything that needs to be cooked gets cooked there.

Can you talk more about who participates?
We have a wide variety of participants, and we let people know they do not have to have previous cooking experience to get involved. That said, a lot of people who volunteer love to cook – some people even bring their own knives! A lot of our preschool families come with their kids. And companies or groups from local universities will often sponsor a table. We also have grandparents who bring their grandchildren and let mom and dad stay at home to prep their own Thanksgiving meal.

This year, we are really ramping up sponsorship opportunities. Groups can sponsor a table and we add their logos to our advertising and website. Individuals can also sponsor. I had a mom call me this morning who wants to sponsor a table in honor of her daughter’s bat mitzvah, which is the following week! They’ll bring friends and family and make a bat mitzvah service project out of the day.

How can people sign up to be involved?
People can register directly at our website – but if they’re interested they should sign up soon. This event fills up quickly every year!

Find more volunteer opportunities with the Washington DCJCC here, and learn more about DC Central Kitchen’s work and how you can get involved here.

Today is International Day of the Girl – Join in!

Today is the UN’s International Day of the Girl, an awesome day dedicated to speaking out against gender bias and advocating for girls’ rights everywhere. While the need for a day focused on girls’ rights might not be immediately obvious, across the globe there are many issues that girls still face including:

Illiteracy – It’s estimated that by 2015, women will make up 64% of the world’s adult population who cannot read.
Forced marraige – One in seven girls in the developing world is married off before age 15.
Violence – In America, 54% of all rapes of females happen before the age of 18.
Body image – More than half of 3rd-5th graders in America worry about their appearance and 37% worry about weight.

Across the globe, people are standing up against these issues and celebrating the Day of the Girl by highlighting, discussing, and advancing girls’ lives and opportunities. Find out how you can join in on the movement here, plug into the Day of the Girl Virtual Summit, or join an official Day of the Girl event here.

Meanwhile, over at Repair the World, we thought we would celebrate by sharing some of our favorite girl and woman empowerment organizations. Check them out!

  • Moving Traditions: This organizations’ popular program Rosh Hodesh: It’s a Girl Thing! has inspired more than 10,000 pre-teen and teenage girls across the country to join in the monthly celebration of the ancient New Moon holiday while building self-esteem, leadership skills, and Jewish identity.
  • Ma’yan: This non-profit and education incubator focuses a feminist lens on the cultural challenges and identity issues facing Jewish girls in contemporary society. Their research, programming and community events help participants grow into critical, curious, and committed global citizens.
  • Care: This humanitarian organization works to fight global poverty, placing a special focus on women.
  • Girls Inc.: The goal of this organization is to inspire all girls to be strong, smart and bold. Their programs help girls navigate gender, economic and social barriers, while equipping them with the tools for health and success.
  • The Girl Effect This website focuses on the unique potential of the world’s 600,000 adolescent girls to end poverty for themselves and the world.
  • Smart Girls at the Party Led by awesome (and awesomely funny) smart girl Amy Poehler, this interactive social network empowers girls to change the world by being themselves.

Sukkot: The Original House Party

This post was created in partnership with NEXT: A Division of Birthright Israel Foundation. Repair the World teamed up with NEXT’s Sukkot Holiday Guide to offer ways you can give back this holiday season. Find out how below. 

Sukkot is the Jewish calendar’s official “house party” holiday. During the week-long celebration, people invite friends and family over to eat in their Sukkahs and stargaze through the roof, which is made of natural materials woven loosely enough so that the stars peek through at night. Some particularly hearty folks even sleep in their Sukkahs!

With all its focus on the outdoors, Sukkot also gives us a chance to think more deeply about a basic human need: shelter—and about our good fortune in having permanent housing. On any given day, nearly 700,000 Americans have no home in which to sleep. And according to United Nations estimates, nearly 1 billion people worldwide live in inadequate or unsafe housing situations like slums.

During Sukkot, we have a week-long opportunity to fulfill the Jewish obligation to “welcome the stranger” into our temporary dwellings. Although this custom is rarely taken literally, it reminds us to remember the needs of others in the midst of our celebration. In that same spirit, check out these resources and organizations working to fight homelessness in America and abroad:

LEARN MORE

  • On1Foot – Find out more about the Jewish tradition’s views on homelessness and hospitality during Sukkot from AJWS’ social justice text database. (Search “Sukkot”)
  • My Jewish Learning – Read about the Jewish mandate that everyone have access to adequate and permanent housing.
  • National Coalition for the Homeless – Find more statistical information about homelessness in America.
  • Sulam Center – Check out this comprehensive round up of Jewish texts relating to homelessness.

GET INVOLVED

  • Habitat for Humanity – A nonprofit organization that builds simple, decent, affordable housing in partnership with people in need.
  • Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty – One of New York’s largest human services agencies fighting against poverty, which runs several residencies for people who are homeless throughout the city.
  • National Alliance to End Homelessness – A nationwide federation of public, private and nonprofit organizations all devoted to ending homelessness in America.
  • National Coalition for the Homeless – A national organization advocating for the rights of people who are homeless.
  • Veahavta – A Jewish humanitarian organization in Toronto that runs a “mobile Jewish response to the homeless van,” delivering meals, clothing and support to homeless people across the city.
  • Washington, D.C. JCC – The JCC runs the “Behrend Builders” program, which connects volunteers to service opportunities helping to rebuild low-income family homes, homeless shelters, and other vital community spaces in the city.

More on Sukkot from Repair the World:

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