Local delegates laud this year’s GA
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Local delegates laud this year’s GA

Volunteers fly south ahead of GA

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Klene-Up Krew volunteers Danny Klyde, left, and Josh Freeman build a planter at Langston Hughes Academy in New Orleans. photos Courtesy Stuart Himmelfarb

When the General Assembly kicked off on Sunday, some North Jerseyans had already been in New Orleans for days volunteering with organizations dedicated to repairing the damage from Hurricane Katrina.

UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey brought 32 volunteers to New Orleans last Wednesday as part of the seventh Klene-Up Krewe to volunteer in parts of the city still struggling to recover from Katrina’s devastation.

“We are continuing to do rebuilding, repairs, and renewal in New Orleans,” said David Goodman of Paramus, co-chair of the Klene-Up Krewe with Larry Weiss of Wyckoff. “The need is there. Even though it’s five years later, you still hear from people you meet along the way and they say thank-you.”

Last Thursday, the group served breakfast and lunch with Just The Right Attitude, a food pantry and soup kitchen. That evening, they had dinner at the New Orleans Hillel house, which is still under construction and scheduled to open officially in January.

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David Goodman presents a donation to Debra South, founder of the Just The Right Attitude food pantry.

Last Friday, they volunteered with the St. Bernard Project, a charity based in St. Bernard Parish, 90 percent of which is still uninhabitable, Goodman said.

“People who go down to New Orleans and stay in the tourist area will think that the city has come back and is looking terrific,” Goodman said. “And it is, it’s really exciting to see how much of the downtown has come back. A lot of people don’t get the opportunity to travel into the neighborhoods we go into, to see the work that still needs to get done.”

The Klene-Up Krewe split into two groups in St. Bernard. Some worked on rebuilding homes for people who could not afford to rebuild after Katrina or have been cheated by contractors, while others went to work clearing plots of land the St. Bernard Project received in the Ninth Ward to build new homes.

“Over 120,000 homes were destroyed in Hurricane Katrina,” Goodman said. “You can’t really think of what 120,000 homes look like. If you get on the ground and see what that extensive area and how that number really equates, it is absolutely unbelievable.”

UJA-NNJ has brought 250 people to New Orleans on seven Klene-Up Krewe trips in five years. Each participant shares in the cost of the trip, said Stuart Himmelfarb of the UJA Federation of New Jersey.

“We are all deeply committed to helping,” he said. “This is one of those projects outside of the Jewish community but not outside of Jewish values.”

The timing of the trip with the General Assembly was coincidental, but that meant some participants were able to extend their trips for the conference. Each year, the fall trip coincides with UJA-NNJ’s Mitzvah Day, which took place on Sunday. For the next trip, scheduled for Martin Luther King Jr. weekend in January, UJA-NNJ is partnering with the teen philanthropy program at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades.

Because of his efforts, Goodman received UJA-NNJ’s 2010 Marge Bornstein Award for Outstanding Volunteerism.

“The Klene-Up Krew is a role model for the entire country,” said David Gad-Harf, associate executive vice president and chief operating officer of UJA-NNJ. “We’ve really made a difference in New Orleans and touched people’s lives.”

For more information about the Klene-Up Krew, call (201) 820-3900.

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