Those of you who attended the Congregational Shabbaton Retreat had the pleasure of meeting some of the residents of the Commons at Madeline Park. The Commons is a transitional housing facility for the chronically homeless, the disabled, and wounded Veterans, where Oudi Singer, our Youth Advisor and 6-8 grade teacher, is employed as a social worker. The needs there are many, and one of the things we discussed at the retreat was how Temple Beth Shalom might help to meet some of them. The Jewish text around which our discussion was centered was “to save one life is to save a whole world.” Indeed, we have done that already, and have the opportunity to do so again now.
At the end of the retreat (as is so common with Jewish events), there was a lot of food left over, including fruit, juice, yogurt, bagels, snacks, and desserts. We agreed as a group to donate this food to the residents of the Commons. Oudi was in charge of its distribution: some was used for communal events such as 12-step meetings, while some was held in reserve for emergencies. A couple of days after the event, this food literally saved a life. A resident, who has some fairly severe mental health issues, had barricaded himself in his apartment and was threatening suicide. Before calling 911 and having the paramedics come and force entry, Oudi and some of the other staff tried to diffuse the situation by talking with the resident through his door to try to determine the source of his frustration and help him to calm down. During this conversation, they learned that one of the things about which the resident was upset was that he didn’t have any food in his apartment, and it was too late in the day to get a ride or a bus to the store. Oudi went down to his office, retrieved some of the food from the retreat, and brought it upstairs. When the resident looked through his peephole and saw the food, he opened the door and allowed the staff to come in and help him. Paramedics didn’t need to be called. The door didn’t need to be forced. The situation was de-escalated without any injury to anyone. And a life was saved.
This morning, Oudi wrote me a Facebook message that broke my heart. He said that with the extreme cold temperatures, residents have not been able to get out to the grocery store and food pantry (they have to walk several blocks to the bus stop). Many of them have little to no food in their apartments. And the food from the retreat, while appreciated, is long gone. He told me of one gentleman who has been subsisting on nothing but potatoes for a week. While this is not normally a time of year when we would have a food drive at TBS, I am asking all of you to please check your pantries for non-pershiable, nutritious food which we can give to Oudi to keep in his office for such emergencies. Some suggestions are: canned soups, chili, beans, tuna, peanut butter, canned fruits and vegetables, canned pasta, easy mac, ramen, etc. (Things that do not require additional ingredients to prepare are particularly helpful.)
With Purim only a few weeks away, the mitzvah of Matanot l’Evyonim (gifts to the poor) becomes especially important. I hope you will join me in performing this important mitzvah by helping these vulnerable members of our community in this time of great need. Oudi is at TBS on Thursdays and Sundays, and will gladly deliver our donations to the Commons. If you need a tax receipt for your donation, please leave a note on my desk and I will be sure you get one.