|From left are Etana Staiman of Teaneck and Sam Fimah and Evan Bloom of Woodcliff Lake.|
Bergen County is not immune from the economic turmoil affecting the rest of the nation. People have lost their safety nets, and many face foreclosure.
The situation, however, is not always hopeless, especially when neighbors reach out to help neighbors. This Sunday, more than 30 people of different ages and lifestyles came from every corner of the county to do just that, working to rehab a Teaneck house for a family facing foreclosure. The use of the house was donated to Project Ezrah, a local employment and financial counseling service.
The project, which will take three weekends to complete, is a partnership between UJA-NNJ’s Bonim/Builders, a group that repairs housing for the needy, and Project Ezrah. The two organizations matched the family to a landlord who will allow them to live rent-free until they can get back on their feet. Both families have requested anonymity.
On Sunday, the house, on a quiet street, was marked by bright orange trash bags outside, leading to a scene that resembled HGTV’s Deserving Design or Trading Spaces. Inside, wallpaper was being stripped, pipes repaired, sheetrock hung, and floors laid. Teenagers, baby boomers, and helpers of all ages were all over the three-story house – which hasn’t been lived in for more than two years – getting it back into shape.
|Alan Krantz and his son Michael take a break. Photos by Jeanette Friedman|
Alan Krantz of Teaneck was there with his son, Michael. “Bonim/Builders is a terrific project, and I get to spend quality time with Michael, which is more meaningful than going to a movie or playing ball,” he said. “Here we can accomplish three things at the same time. Michael learns that there is more to giving than money, he’s picking up useful skills, and we are having fun.”
Etana Staiman, also of Teaneck, was there with her father, Kalman. As they worked to remove old wallpaper, Staiman noted that “doing this kind of work is a unique way of giving tzedakah, and it feels good to know that a family will live a better life because we helped them.”
Upstairs – where a wall was damaged because of a leaky pipe – another volunteer said, “We are looking at hard times, and because of the situation, we figure we will be doing more work like this in the community, and we are going to need funds for supplies.”
|Stacey Orden, lay leader of the Bonim project, gives the day’s work two thumbs up.|
Genene Kaye, the Bonim project director, and Stacey Orden, the project’s lay leader, coordinate the group, which is one of the most active in UJA-NNJ.
“Our volunteers are the best,” said Kaye. “They don’t necessarily have resources to give us, but what they do have and give in great measure is sweat equity.”
She said that what Bonim needs most is money for supplies so that it can continue its renovation work – from installing safety bars in a bathroom to renovating abandoned houses so that families in need can live there.
Rabbi Yossie Stern, the executive director of Project Ezrah, said that while he doesn’t like to paint a dim picture of the situation, families in Bergen County are suffering.
“Because many families in the area pay yeshiva tuition, they haven’t been able to accrue savings, and when they are hit, many spouses who didn’t get the full financial picture go into shock. The situation is very volatile.”
Stern added, “Our community has been outstanding in terms of making sure that we can provide for people, and in that way it is unique. But one thing is certain,” he added. “As the economy worsens, as time goes on, more people will default, so the dynamic of needs and solutions may change, and we will need to devise new ways to help.”