by Liza Wiemer
When Hurricane Harvey struck Houston, Rabbi Yisroel Wilhelm, co-director of the Rohr Chabad Center at the University of Colorado in Boulder, understood more than most the tremendous effort, generosity and compassion it takes for a community to rebuild after a flood. In 2013, between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Boulder was hit with rains that measured 1,000 times more than normal.
Because of that experience, Wilhelm, who runs the campus Chabad center with his wife, Leah, wanted to do everything possible to assist the Houston community. “One of the most challenging parts of a flood is obtaining supplies and then cleaning up,” he explained. “That requires the human touch, an army of volunteers.”
He decided to reach out to a few students. In a text, he wrote: “Let’s do something crazy. Let’s go to Houston.”
One of those students, senior Ben Davis, works for The Junk Trunk, owned by his friend and CU graduate Nathan Schweid. Davis asked if Chabad at CU could use the company’s truck to transport supplies. Schweid didn’t hesitate for a moment; he became close to the Wilhelms and a regular at Chabad during his freshman year, and continues to participate in activities.
A call for diapers, wipes, towels, water pumps, gloves, masks, cleaning supplies and gift cards was made to the community. In two days, they collected more than 2,000 pounds of goods worth $20,000. Together with Chabad Bais Menachem and Chabad South Metro Denver, volunteers, including children from the Chabad Garden Preschool, loaded the items into the truck.
“We saw an opportunity to help in a small way,” said Schweid. “My thinking is that if everyone not directly affected by the storm could lend a small hand in whatever way possible, a big difference could be made for the people directly affected by the storm. Whether it be giving just $5 or sharing a message on Facebook, word spreads, and differences are made.”
‘What Can I Do?’
To head the group of 11 CU volunteers on the journey to Houston, Wilhelm called upon Rabbi Ezra Wiemer, 23, who had helped spearhead their 2013 flood recovery. Traveling in three vehicles, they left after Shabbat and arrived at the Chabad volunteer center in Houston 16 hours later. It took Junk Trunk truck driver Ben Davis 21 hours to make the trip.
Colorado University junior Jackson Devlin said “my first thought when I heard about the devastation that Harvey wreaked upon Houston was what can I do, how can I help? Chabad at CU provided the avenue for me to be able to make a difference.”
On the way, one group made a crucial stop to an animal shelter to deliver food. “All animals, which are G‑d’s creatures, need care, too,” said graduate student Jon Rubinchik.
Armed with masks, gloves and cleanup supplies, the volunteers were dispatched to homes. Working in 95 degree heat and 100 percent humidity through most of the day, one group removed a wood floor and hauled pieces to the curb. Another helped a homeowner by bagging destroyed personal items and collecting ruined Jewish holy books that require proper burial.
With a half-hour to spare before needing to return to the volunteer center, four of the CU volunteers — Wiemer, Rubinchik, junior Sam Garelick and freshman Ryan Spitzer—noticed another home had very little debris sitting on the curb. They knocked on the door and asked the man if he needed help.
“You could see the relief written all over his face,” related Wiemer. “He has three sons. Two were away in Austin and a third became ill from the dust. The man was tearing down drywall by himself. We came in and were able to get what would have taken him a full day’s worth of work done in a short period of time. Never underestimate the unbounding power of chesed, of kindness. We have witnessed its ability to transform.”
Afterwards, they joined the other Chabad on Campus volunteers for dinner. In total, the entire group cleaned up 50 homes. Special recognition was given to the Colorado Chabad for traveling the farthest distance to help.
On Monday morning, Chabad at CU volunteers unloaded The Junk Trunk truck at Chabad of Houston’s Outreach Center at 11000 Fondren Road, where flood victims can come for supplies, and once again donned gloves and masks to assist more homeowners.
At 4:00 pm, they’ll begin their journey back to Boulder to be on time for the start of the new academic year.
“It’s going to be very difficult to leave,” said Wiemer. “There are so many people who still need help.”
This story was originally posted on Chabad.org.