Helping Hurricane Harvey victims

Helping Hurricane Harvey victims

Teaneck student spearheads book drive to give displaced children the chance to read

Sara Mirwis of Teaneck holds some of the books she has collected for young victims of Hurricane Harvey in Houston. 
Sara Mirwis of Teaneck holds some of the books she has collected for young victims of Hurricane Harvey in Houston. 

Though Florida now is recovering from Hurricane Irma, the devastation from Hurricane Harvey in Houston still is palpable.

We have seen the pictures, watched the news, and heard the heartbreaking stories of people who have lost everything. We all wish we can do something; many of us have donated money and many want to do more. But for those Bergen County residents who have a connection to Houston, the desire to help is even more overwhelming.

Posts have gone up on Teaneck shuls with websites and advice about financial donation. But what happens when kids want to help?

Sara Mirwis of Teaneck is a sixth grader at Yeshivat Noam in Paramus. She spent the first seven years of her life in Houston; her parents, Valerie and Etan, lived there for 17 years and survived Hurricanes Ike, Katrina, and Rita. But for Sara, who is about to celebrate her bat mitzvah, this hurricane was personal.

According to her mother, “all Sara could think about is the kids that have no school supplies for the beginning of school. She decided to make a new and like-new book collection because she could not fathom kids not having books.” The fact that it coincided with her upcoming simcha and she could do this as a chesed project is simply a mystical coincidence.

“I have my best friend still in Houston,” Sara added. “All the kids there love to read. So that was how I came up with my idea to collect books for them. I can’t believe there are kids with no books! I asked my dad if he can take books each week if I collect them and he said, of course!”

Sara’s father still commutes to Houston for work every week, so he will be able to help. He’ll see that the books will be distributed to various organizations to which the Mirwis family is connected — local day schools, public schools, and community centers around Houston.

When Mr. Mirwis got home from Houston last week, he described the heartbreaking situation there to his family. It brought up memories of what it was like for the family to survive the monstrous storm that was Hurricane Ike in 2008. “The kids had no school for about two weeks,” Valerie Mirwis said. “Everyone was helping out, barbecuing all the meats from people’s freezers. I did a ton of cooking for people because I was one of only two Jewish families with a gas stovetop. The kids went around cleaning up all the debris in the aftermath. Moving branches, tree limbs, outdoor broken items. Some people had impromptu classes for the children in their homes.”

Ms. Mirwis also fondly recalls the two large boxes that appeared on her doorstep in Houston. They came from friends in West Orange and in Woodmere, N.Y., and were “filled with everything imaginable to keep us busy, fed, and happy. Those boxes helped in our healing, no doubt.” She is grateful that others are keeping this in mind in dealing with the aftermath of Harvey’s devastation.

Ike was not the family’s first hurricane. Valerie was pregnant with Sara — she was on bed rest — when Hurricane Rita hit in 2005.

In 2012, the family moved to Teaneck to be closer to relatives, even though their Houston friends are like family, they say. Valerie and Etan have six children — Daveed, 25, Isaac, 23, Deena, 21, Yoseph, 20, Elisheva, 17, and Sara. And two months after they moved in, Hurricane Sandy struck. “The experience for us was very different,” Ms. Mirwis said. “First of all, we were able to take it in stride (if one can say that about a hurricane). Second, it was freezing! In Houston the weather is mild to very hot. So, when we had no electricity we were hot!

“It was weird to experience a hurricane and to be cold!”

Now, Ms. Mirwis said, “My husband is in the real estate business — commercial and residential — and many people are without homes right now. He was working around the clock from before the rains even stopped pouring down, organizing and preparing for flood mitigation and rehab. He has learned over the years that the sooner the repairs begin, the less damage one incurs.” Two of the Mirwis’s sons, Daveed and Yoseph, flew down with their father to help with demolition and to provide general aid to people in desperate need.

For her part, Sara cares deeply about helping the victims of this latest — and worst — hurricane. “We would love it if a person is moved and able to help to buy a new — or give a like-new) book to be sent to the schools and communities in Houston. They can reach out to my mom for details at, call (713) 545-3684 for drop off or if they need her to pick up.”

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