When Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal sent out an e-mail to her constituents on the Upper West Side that explained how they could aid victims of Hurricane Sandy, she did not expect a response from San Diego.
Rosenthal’s e-mail list, it turned out, was a bit dated. One recipient was a former Upper West Side resident who left the city three years ago for the Southern California city. There she enrolled her children at San Diego Jewish Academy, a day school with a history of community outreach that includes benefit drives for post-earthquake Haiti and post-Katrina New Orleans. When she heard that the school’s administrators where brainstorming aid projects for New York City a few weeks ago, she forwarded Rosenthal’s message to Head of School Chaim Heller.
“We were looking for a local person who was actually doing something on the ground,” Heller told West Side Spirit on Friday at Rosenthal’s West 72nd Street office. “We wanted to be able to tell our students, practically, what their contributions would mean—something tangible.”
Heller and his colleagues decided to host an event that would raise money instead of goods, and told Rosenthal they would donate half the proceeds to a local organization recommended by her. Then they set about organizing and advertising their project: “The Mother of All Garage Sales,” a daylong used-item sale run by the school’s 600 kindergarten-through-12th-grade students and their parents.
Students spent the week leading up to the Nov. 11 sale collecting items from their families and posting fliers across the city. On the day of the sale, they took on roles assigned by grade, such as managing particular sections of goods and grilling hot dogs, which they sold to raise additional money.
According to Heller, the school charged $5 for food and a $5-per-car entrance fee. The items for sale, he added, were far from dusty throwaways pulled out of attics: “There was furniture, there were television sets, sports equipment, bicycles. There was a car. It was a big deal. We fanned all over the city for a week picking things up from people’s homes.”
The sale began at 8 a.m. and closed at 3 p.m. Heller said that people lined up before it opened, and well over 1,000 attended. The school raised $23,000 by the end of the day, well over double what Heller had anticipated.
Half of this amount went to the Jewish Federations of America, an international Jewish organization that has spearheaded its own extensive aid projects for victims of the storm. The other half, by Rosenthal’s recommendation, went to Met Council, one of the city’s largest human services agencies.
“I’ve worked closely with Met Council in my almost-seven years in office,” Rosenthal told West Side Spirit. “I know what wonderful work they’ve done when I’ve needed help for my constituents. The kind of help they give is not just food or places to live, but actual human beings who care and have empathy and compassion for the people who are stuck in a dark, powerless apartment.”
Ilene Marcus, Met Council’s chief of staff, joined Rosenthal in her office to accept an oversized check from Heller. She agreed that her organization’s mission in hurricane relief is to provide personal care to victims as well as goods and cash assistance. “It’s all about one-on-one interaction, making people feel comfortable,” she said.
According to her, San Diego Jewish Academy’s donation will help fund Met Council’s multifaceted “whole needs” approach to aiding hurricane victims, which includes building repairs, temporary housing, bulk food shipments, direct cash assistance and social worker deployments.
Did Rosenthal think it was funny that a large donation came from a mistakenly sent e-mail? “It was not a mistake,” she laughed. “It was serendipity!”
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