This article was first published in The Times of Israel.
When Superstorm Sandy struck last fall, large numbers of relief work volunteers flocked to the United States’ Northeast region to help. But Jewish college students Mia Appelbaum, Mathew Barkan and Nadine Miller headed in the opposite direction — westward, to Joplin, Missouri, where a catastrophic tornado had leveled much of the city and killed 158 people in May 2011.
The students went to Joplin with the Jewish Disaster Response Corps, an initiative that mobilizes service-oriented young people (mainly Jews, but also non-Jews as part of interfaith groups) to respond to the long-term recovery and rebuilding needs of domestic communities affected by disasters. These are not the volunteers that bring in food, water, clothing and medical supplies to emergency shelters in the immediate aftermath. They are the ones that are in it for the long haul, clearing out debris and rebuilding people’s houses months, and even years, later.
JDRC has been helping to rebuild communities in the Midwest and Southern US since 2009, when founder Elie Lowenfeld, then an NYU undergrad himself, decided to get some friends together to help out for a week in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, which had been hit by a flood the previous year.
“I had volunteered for flood clean up in Cedar Rapids the summer before with AmeriCorps, and I saw great groups coming from churches,” Lowenfeld recalls in a phone conversation with The Times of Israel. “I learned from that and wanted to replicate the model, but for Jewish students.”
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© 2013 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.