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Colorado Students Drive 16 Hours to Houston With $20,000 in Supplies

Colorado Students Drive 16 Hours to Houston With $20,000 in Supplies

After a night on the road, a day of nonstop work for college-age volunteers

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Working in 95 degree heat and 100 percent humidity through most of the day, Sam Garelick, left, and Ryan Spitzer were among a group of students from the University of Colorado in Boulder who made the trek to help victims of Hurricane Harvey.
Working in 95 degree heat and 100 percent humidity through most of the day, Sam Garelick, left, and Ryan Spitzer were among a group of students from the University of Colorado in Boulder who made the trek to help victims of Hurricane Harvey.

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.”

Rabbi Ezra Wiemer works alongside Colorado University freshman Ryan Spitzer, tearing off flood-damaged drywall.
Rabbi Ezra Wiemer works alongside Colorado University freshman Ryan Spitzer, tearing off flood-damaged drywall.

‘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.

Geoff Mitler, left, with college senior Ben Davis, who works for The Junk Trunk owned by his friend and CU graduate Nathan Schweid. When Davis asked if Chabad at CU could use the company truck to transport supplies, Schweid didn’t hesitate for a moment.
Geoff Mitler, left, with college senior Ben Davis, who works for The Junk Trunk owned by his friend and CU graduate Nathan Schweid. When Davis asked if Chabad at CU could use the company truck to transport supplies, Schweid didn’t hesitate for a moment.

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.”

Children at the Chabad Garden Preschool help load The Junk Trunk truck owned by Nathan Schweid, who donated its use to transport 2,000 pounds of supplies valued at more than $20,000. Student Ben Davis, pictured with the kids, drove the truck to Houston.
Children at the Chabad Garden Preschool help load The Junk Trunk truck owned by Nathan Schweid, who donated its use to transport 2,000 pounds of supplies valued at more than $20,000. Student Ben Davis, pictured with the kids, drove the truck to Houston.

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 p.m., 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."

The truck all filled and ready to head off to Houston.
The truck all filled and ready to head off to Houston.
On the way, one group made a stop to an animal shelter to deliver food. “All animals, which are G‑d's creatures, need care, too,” said graduate student Jon Rubinchik.
On the way, one group made a stop to an animal shelter to deliver food. “All animals, which are G‑d's creatures, need care, too,” said graduate student Jon Rubinchik.
Volunteers worked in sweltering conditions for much of the day.
Volunteers worked in sweltering conditions for much of the day.
Jon Rubichnik, left, and Sam Garelick discard damaged goods as part of the cleanup.
Jon Rubichnik, left, and Sam Garelick discard damaged goods as part of the cleanup.


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Bertski N.CHAS. September 11, 2017

That is impressive to get so much and move it down to TX. Where having it in the heart to do good for another says so much about G-d.
It's just simply good that others would think of such.
As I want to render aid in 04 down in FL, but circumstances required I come back to Charleston. Which no hurricane here then, but a Hispanic couple that just gets by needed the things I carried right here without having an emergency. As daily life that scrape by. Reply

Anonymous September 7, 2017

What an amazing kiddush Hashem!!!! Way to go! Reply

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