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Fain Winner: Huntington Interfaith Homeless Initiative

Interfaith Homeless Initiative, Huntington

May. 14, 2009

Congregation provides winter respite site: meals, clothing and sleeping accommodations as part of a local interfaith homeless initiative.

 

Community Contact Information:

Temple Beth El of Huntington

Huntington, NY

www.tbeli.org

 

Goals:

  • Provide food and shelter for the homeless during the winter
  • Bring awareness of the homeless population to congregants and the larger community
  • Teach the homeless population self-advocacy and ensure fair treatment at the day-laborer site

 

Overview:

The local interfaith community offered a respite site providing a warm place to sleep, meals and clothing to approximately 20 individuals from November 15th – March 31st. The congregation houses this program on Wednesdays where they also offer additional opportunities: free ESL programs, AA programs, and dental screening for their guests.

 

Preparation:

Funding and donations were requested for the purchase of a storage shed for air mattresses, linens, surplus supplies, and clothing. Space was requested within the synagogue to store these supplies and house the effort. Presentations were made to the synagogue board as well as the general congregation to educate the community about the population in need as well as recruit volunteers to help. One speaker from the Hispanic community discussed the needs and the plight of immigrants. Training sessions were held for volunteers.

 

Project Implementation:

The project takes place November 15 - March 31 each year. Each night a different congregation acts as a respite site to about 20 homeless individuals. Guests are picked up at a designated location, screened, and then transported to the synagogue. They are greeted by our volunteers, given toiletries and served dinner. After dinner, congregants interact with our guests (watching movies, playing games, and in conversation) and ESL lessons are provided by students from a local high school. If guests need warm coats, hats, socks, etc., we provide that as well, thanks to donations. At approximately 9:30 p.m., the guests go to sleep and volunteers stay and chaperone all night. At 4:30 a.m., breakfast-shift volunteers cook a warm breakfast. At 5:45, guests are given a bagged lunch—also made by congregants – and are transported to the day-laborer site in town. Clearly, there are many roles that our volunteers play including: cooking, setting up for dinner and sleeping needs, serving dinner, chaperoning, supplying lunch, supplying and cooking breakfast, laundry, and cleaning up. The congregation has mobilized in this service effort as an act of tikkun olam.

Other volunteers shop for supplies and some help with problems such as non-payment of wages to help defend the civil liberties of these residents. The program is really more than a five-month effort. Besides oversight and coordination during the months of service, we organize, collect supplies and donations, and advocate for the homeless population locally and elsewhere.

 

Results:

Even those who were skeptical of the program now are proud and appreciative of the mitzvah we are providing. There are approximately 45 individuals living in cardboard boxes in the woods in the area — near affluent suburbs. This program offers needed relief as well as compassion and support. By opening up the doors of our synagogue, we are bridging the gap between our population and the Hispanic community. Hundreds of our congregants—from religious school and b’nai mitzvah students to senior citizens—have opened their hearts and wallets, and reached out to these local neighbors. We have raised awareness among our congregants and the surrounding communities about the immigrant population and the many benefits they have to offer us. We have enlisted the aid of other synagogues, local restaurants, and assisted-living communities, youth groups, and high schools, becoming a part of the larger community of agencies administering to this disadvantaged population.

Before the program was implemented, the security of our facilities and our synagogue members had to be safeguarded and health concerns addressed. The Department of Health came to allay any fears about the transmission of diseases. This is a perfect model for any community wanting to provide much-needed food and shelter to those who otherwise have none.

In addition, Temple Beth El was fortunate enough to have a congregant, who is a professional photographer, come and teach our guests photography last season. Even though there was a language barrier, the program proved to be quite successful as a means of expression for the men and as an educational experience for the community. As a result of the TBE effort, the photo exhibit that we sponsored is now traveling throughout Long Island and is already booked through May 2009. The exhibit has been shown at local houses of worship, universities, and will go to local libraries.