The sheer scope of the devastation was unlike anything they had ever seen. Houses were flattened. Giant trees were toppled, their exposed roots clawing the air. More than 80 people died in the Category 4 hurricane, the fifth-strongest ever in the US, and the 150 mph wind caused billions of dollars in damage. Thousands of people lost their homes.
Two dozen students from North Shore Hebrew Academy spent an emotional two days in west Florida, helping with relief efforts following Hurricane Ian, which tore through the region on Sept. 23.
“As someone who was a victim of Hurricane Sandy, I thought I saw the highest extent of what a storm can do to a place,” said Sasha, an 11th grade student. “I was wrong.”
Jamie Lassner, director of the Office of Student Life at North Shore Hebrew Academy Middle School, led the chesed trip for middle school and high school students, following his extensive experience in disaster areas and volunteer work with Hatzalah emergency and ambulance corps.
The students spent one part of their trip working with a contractor to demolish parts of a home on Sanibel Island, smashing through floors and walls that were water damaged to make way for renovations. Another day, they loaded a 52-foot trucking container to the brim with new mattresses to be donated to storm victims. The local Chabad, which is highly involved in the relief efforts, pointed NSHA to where support was most needed.
“There was no better feeling than going with my friends to help people who may have been experiencing the worst moments in their lives,” said Jeremy, an 11th grader. “The media tends to show scenes from many graphic events, and it’s hard for people to believe what is really going on. Here, I was actually able to see and help after one of the worst natural disasters that had ever hit the west coast of Florida.”
This wasn’t the first time NSHA students have responded in the aftermath of a natural disaster. This summer, a group of students traveled to Kentucky to help the area recover from catastrophic flooding.
Although these types of chesed trips can be challenging, NSHA believes they help prepare students to be compassionate leaders. “We are planting the seeds for these kids to say, ‘I need to stand up and do something right now,’ whether it’s in their immediate community or the larger community,” said Lassner.