Staff and volunteers are focusing relief efforts on areas that haven’t had as much attention
On May 20 and 21, Central Oklahoma saw a string of tornados that took lives and destroyed homes. Though much of the media attention has focused on the town of Moore, where an EF-5 tornado ripped through schools and residential areas, the damage spans more than 60 miles and includes multiple municipalities. NECHAMA–Jewish Response to Disaster, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit, has been a regional and nationwide responder to such tragic events of extreme weather for more than 15 years and is on the ground in the greater Oklahoma City region cleaning up. As members of the national collective known as VOAD (Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster), NECHAMA works with secular and faith-based organizations to fill a wide variety of unmet disaster-related needs.
“Our tool trailers are like hardware stores on wheels,” said Dan Hoeft, NECHAMA Operations Manager. “Because we carry all our resources with us into the disaster area, we can start working with the community as soon as we arrive.”
Currently, NECHAMA is focusing relief efforts on areas that haven’t had as much attention — areas where the influx of volunteers has been slower, but the need is great.
A team of 10 NECHAMA staff and volunteers are currently staying at the University of Oklahoma where housing and meals have been donated to minimize costs on the organization while they are supporting and leading cleanup efforts.
Hoeft, who’s been with NECHAMA for more than four years, has deployed to disasters around the country.
“With the help of collaborating agencies from VOAD and the local community, we are working to establish a coordinated and structured response, where we can ensure that those who need it most are helped,” he said.
NECHAMA welcomes volunteers ages 13 and older from all backgrounds and skill levels by providing tools, housing, meals and organized work six days a week while resting on Shabbat. Following an on-site safety briefing, teams are led by NECHAMA staff members or experienced volunteers.
“If all someone has to contribute to a disaster cleanup is time and energy, we are the channel through which they can have a meaningful, hands-on impact,” said NECHAMA Board President Gene Borochoff.
NECHAMA will be in Oklahoma for at least the next two weeks.
Since 1912 the AJW has served as an important news resource for the Jewish community. The Jewish World unites the main Jewish communities in St. Paul and Minneapolis, as well as those in Duluth, Rochester and smaller cities, and bridges the divides between the various Jewish religious streams.