Roderick Robinson and his fiancée, Jasmine Maddox, were driving around Tallahassee on Thursday afternoon hoping to find a store or restaurant that was open. Their residence is without power and their four children, ages 10 to 16, needed something more than snacks.

With trees down all over the city and more than 100,000 people without power after Hurricane Michael sent 70-plus mph winds racing through the city Wednesday, they weren’t having much luck. Many streets were blocked off, and those stores they did manage to reach were dark.

“All of the places that have food aren’t open,” said Maddox. “The kids have been eating little snacks, but they are hungry. We have water and chips and stuff, but nothing to fill their stomachs well.”

As they drove down a nearby street, they passed the local Chabad House, directed by Rabbi Shneur Zalman and Chana Oirechman. Though they didn’t know the Oirechmans and aren’t Jewish, they knew it was a house of worship. When they saw members of the Oirechman family outside grilling food, Robinson pulled over to find out if there was some available.

“No charge,” responded the rabbi, who directs Chabad Lubavitch of the Panhandle.

“Can we get a plate, please?” Rod asked, coming away with two heaping plates of fresh grilled chicken and some cold water bottles for his family, including his 82-year-old mother.

“It’s quite a blessing,” said Jasmine Maddox.

Themselves without electricity, the Oirechman family cooked up and offered what food they had.
Themselves without electricity, the Oirechman family cooked up and offered what food they had.

Helping Throughout the State

Near hard-hit Panama City Beach, the directors of Chabad of the Emerald Coast, Rochel and Rabbi Yeshayahu Tenonboim, along with their 12-year-old daughter Bassie, were making their way around town delivering home-cooked meals, cold water bottles, ice and even gas to people there.

“There was this one family ... they didn’t have a normal meal for a long time, and I saw the mother was really happy,” said Bassie. “It feels sort of amazing to do this.”

Feeding those in need and making sure that people have a place to go in the wake of devastating storms like Hurricane Michael—which came ashore with winds clocked at 155 mph and devastated a wide swath of Florida’s Panhandle coastline—is why Chabad does what they do, say the local emissaries.

“Being here in the easy times or when things are routine that’s very nice,” said Nechama Danow, who with her husband, Mendel, are new emissaries to Pensacola, Fla., on the far western side of the Panhandle. ”But we are also here when we are needed to help people and give to others.”

It isn’t just with food or a place to stay that the Chabad emissaries are helping people. Late Wednesday night as the storm was pulling northward away from Florida, Tenenboim began checking in with people he knows in the affected area.

He spoke with one woman who was frantic. Her daughter was in Panama City with her grandparents, and no one had heard from the family. Tenenboim began making calls and was able to reach rescuers who could check on the family.

The Tenenboim family prepares meals for hurricane victims.
The Tenenboim family prepares meals for hurricane victims.

The rescuers had to cut through six miles of downed trees, and after three hours were able to reach the family. Thank G‑d, said Tenenboim, they were found scared, but safe.

Noting that this week’s Torah reading is about Noah and the Great Flood, Oirechman said this was his family’s way of helping the children of Noah after a flood and “helping make an impact on humanity by making the world a better place for Moshiach.”

He said his children, who had been cooking the food when the Robinson family stopped by, were particularly proud that they could help other people.

The family had also cooked meals on Wednesday night after Hurricane Michael had left, and handed those out meals out to people they knew, including some elderly residents, a few of whom returned on Thursday for some more freshly made food.

Also on Thursday, students from Florida State University had stopped by to check in with the Oirechmans and ended up joining the family for breakfast. Among them was Joseph Zilonka, 20, a junior from Boca Raton, Fla.

“I was worried about the Chabad House,” said Zilonka, who rode out the storm in his FSU dorm. “I was concerned that it might have gotten damaged, so I went to check it out. I go there every week. It’s an important place to me and to the rabbi, who’s a good friend of mine, and I wouldn’t want anything to happen to it.”

According to Oirechman, there is some damage to both the Chabad House, which was under renovation when the storm hit, and his family’s residence. How much, though, remains to be seen.

Without any power, he explained, it’s hard to assess all the damage.

The rabbi has been in touch with some people from hard-hit Panama Beach who had evacuated and is waiting to hear what they need as well. (At press time, he was still trying to reach one community member who stayed in the coastal town during the storm).

“We’re calling everybody, and making sure they are OK and offering to arrange for housing in Orlando and Miami,” said the rabbi. “Then we’ll assess the damages and what everyone needs, and the challenges ahead and go from there.”

Funds have been established to help victims of Hurricane Michael.

Donations to Chabad-Lubavitch of the Panhandle-Tallahassee can be made here.

Donations to Chabad of the Emerald Coast can be made here.