The Power of Connection and Clean Underwear: A Hurricane Harvey Story

Inside Leadership

The Power of Connection and Clean Underwear: A Hurricane Harvey Story

Group of smiling volunteers including some in military uniforms posing with large boxes in a cement warehouse

This is a story about five rabbis, 25,000 pairs of new undergarments and the powerful cross-country connections that delivered dignity and comfort to grateful hurricane evacuees in Dallas.

It all started when Noah Gusdorff of California found himself moved by the plight of Hurricane Harvey victims halfway across the country. He told his rabbi, Andrew Straus of Temple Adat Elohim in Thousand Oaks, CA, that he had a truck available to take supplies to the region.

Rabbi Straus, who had recently participated in a webinar with Rabbi David Stern of Temple Emanu-El of Dallas (also the president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis), wrote to Rabbi Stern to connect him with this generous congregant. In turn, Rabbi Stern shared the information with Karen Hoffman, Director of Congregational Engagement, who along with Rabbi Debra Robbins  been on the ground at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas.

From their work with Rabbi Shira Stern, a disaster spiritual care advisor for the American Red Cross, Rabbi Robbins and Karen knew there was an urgent need for undergarments. As it turns out, Rabbi Robbins had been in touch with yet another rabbi, Rabbi Amy Weiss, founder of an organization called Undies for Everyone, which provides clean underwear in Houston and Dallas schools. Its mission is to “[enhance] the self-esteem, dignity, hygiene and success of disadvantaged students by providing them underwear.”

Rabbi Weiss, of Houston, was herself dealing with the effects of Hurricane Harvey in her own home, but she had 25,000 pairs of new undergarments ready to ship out. Enter Karen Hoffman, director of congregational engagement and connector extraordinaire. Karen knew that Jewish Family Service of Greater Dallas had supplies waiting to be brought to Houston. She also knew that a temple congregant, Chuck Stein, had access to 12 palettes of diapers. And her friend Rusty Dworkin knew of a veterans organization in the Houston area that was distributing supplies.

By Wednesday, September 6, Karen was in constant contact with Noah, the original volunteer in California, and his associate, Scott, who was driving the truck; together, they had mobilized a dozen volunteers to load the truck at JFS. After dropping off supplies with the veterans organization, the truck stopped at Houston Hillel, where the underwear was being stored. Scott and the underwear arrived at the convention center on Thursday, September 7.

Back at it again on Friday, September 8, the truck arrived at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center of Dallas, where volunteers with the synagogue and the greater Jewish community loaded hundreds of boxes of water and other supplies and headed down the road again to distribute to people in need in Beaumont and Rockport.

It's a story made possible by thoughtful professional relationships among dedicated clergy – and by the open hearts and generosity of those who cared enough to step in and make a difference.

 Connie Dufner is the director of communications of Temple Emanu-El in Dallas, TX.

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