In last week’s Thursday reminder, in the wake of Hurricane Harvey’s unprecedented destruction in the Houston-area, I offered you three ways to help those in need. Now, a week later, I am overwhelmed by the response of our synagogue members and wanted to highlight what we as a community were able to accomplish in less than seven days:
Last Tuesday, my wife, Barrie, was listening to NPR on her way to drop our son, Asher, off at Montessori for preschool. NPR was doing a segment about the Texas Diaper Bank, which helps fill the “diaper gap” during a natural disaster. The diaper gap occurs in disasters like Hurricane Harvey because most relief agencies simply don’t distribute diapers. Their focus is on more immediate needs like food, shelter, and first aid. Still, Barrie found herself thinking about how hard it would be if, God forbid, a disaster would strike West Lafayette, and amidst losing everything she also had to worry about finding Asher diapers.
So, on a whim, she reached out to the West Lafayette MOMS Club, which she had just recently joined, to see if anyone had open packages of diapers they wanted to donate (since the Texas Diaper Bank accepts open diaper packages). As a mom, Barrie knew that children are always outgrowing diapers, and that, like her, other moms might have a few left over from previous sizes. The hope was to put together a package of one-hundred or so diapers to send to Texas.
Instead, the response was overwhelming. A mom in the MOMS club reached out to the Montessori School of Greater Lafayette (MSGL) and asked if they would encourage parents to donate. Other moms reached out to their neighbors and churches. And, in last week’s Thursday reminder, I reached out to all of you. In the end, as a community we collected over 2500 diapers (as well as formula, wipes, toothbrushes, and toothpaste) to send to the Texas Diaper Bank to be distributed to those effected by Hurricane Harvey in the greater Houston area.
This was an incredible endeavor. We, as a community, reached out to strangers. Temple Israel, the MOMS Club, MSGL, and countless churches and neighborhoods worked together to meet a need. This is the power of reaching across community lines. We could have simply made this a Temple Israel effort, or moms in the MOMS Club could have decided to keep this within MOMS Club, but to what end? Together, we did what any single one of us could not have accomplished on our own.
As your rabbi, I am overwhelmed with gratitude by everyone’s response. Barrie’s home office is currently filled to the ceiling with Pampers boxes, pull-ups, and adult diapers. Congregants have stopped by my office daily asking if they could make cash donations, or help with shipping costs. And, of course, I know so many of you have made donations or offered assistance to other organizations, or in other ways, to help those in need. The diaper drive reminds us that while our own efforts to enact change might seem small, when seen through the lens of our collective efforts, the change we can enact is limitless.
In the end, we don’t know if these diapers, or our donations, are going to Jews. Frankly, we will probably never know who they go to. But that doesn’t matter. The Torah tells us that we should “leave the corners of our fields for the poor and needy,” a metaphor for creating a safety net for the most vulnerable in our communities, of fulfilling the task of l’taken et ha’olam, “to mend the world.”
It is always humbling to see individuals thinking of others in the world above themselves, and to see humans helping humans, whether they know them or not, whether they share religions or not. According to Maimonides, one of the highest levels of giving is to do so without knowing to whom one gives, and without the recipient knowing from who one receives. We may never meet those to whom we are providing these diapers, and we may never hear a “thank you,” or get a card, but as Reform Jews, we know that while “charity” comes from the Latin “caritas” (from the heart), ours is a different call, a call for tzedakah, for justice in this world, no matter the emotions associated.
Again, thank you to all who contributed and supported this last-minute diaper drive. May our actions this week be only one of many endeavors in which the entire community comes together in peace and friendship to add to the goodness in this world.