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Monday, January 24, 2011

Nassau County, NY - First Kosher Shelter By Red Cross Designated To Jewish Community

Nassau County, NY - The American Red Cross recently designated a local school as an evacuation shelter that caters to the cultural needs of the Jewish community.

West Hempstead High School is now a kosher disaster evacuation shelter — the first of its kind in Nassau County — created specifically for the very large orthodox community of the Five Towns area, which is particularly vulnerable to flooding in the event of a major hurricane. The school was designated as such in mid-December, after the Red Cross reached out to district officials to propose the idea.

“It’s out of the flood area,” said Red Cross spokesman Sam Kille. “It also is close to the evacuation route that comes from the Five Towns — Peninsula Boulevard — so those were the key factors.”

The design of the high school building itself, located at 400 Nassau Blvd., was taken into consideration as well. Unlike most Red Cross and county shelters where men, women and children share sleeping and gathering space, the layout of West Hempstead High School allows for separate quarters for men and women — which caters to the needs of the Jewish orthodox community.

“The high school is a large building and certainly could accommodate a large number of people quite easily,” said West Hempstead schools Superintendent John Hogan. “Anything we can do to assist the community, particularly in a time of emergency, is something that we’re going to try to do.”

The Red Cross has a stockpile of kosher Meals, Ready to Eat — commonly known as MRE — that it will store at the high school. It will also have volunteers trained to respect the cultural traditions of the orthodox Jewish community, Kille said: they will be Community Emergency Response Team members from the Five Towns area.

“Red Cross is constantly looking for ways to address diversity and cultural needs,” Kille said.

“It’s wonderful that the Red Cross is responsive to the needs of the Jewish Community,” said Rabbi Art Vernon of the Jewish Community Center of West Hempstead. “It makes sense being in West Hempstead because we have an orthodox community and facilities here and we can provide. … I know the West Hempstead community: the West Hempstead Jewish community would do everything it could to welcome people in such circumstances.”

The county has 25 general population hurricane shelters, but it is looking to find additional locations that cater to the cultural needs of different groups, according to James Callahan III, commissioner of the county’s Office of Emergency Management.

“We’ve made it so that everyone is safe … but now we’re trying to bring it up to a level where people are comfortable,” Callahan said. “Communities like the orthodox community have special requirements that we want to try now to take care of.”

A goal of County Executive Ed Mangano’s has been to make Nassau County better prepared to handle disasters, Callahan said, and this is one way for OEM to do so. The agency has been exploring communities that have special sheltering requirements and is now working to accommodate them.

“We’re looking at wherever we have pockets of orthodox community to do the same thing,” Callahan said. “That’s what we’re trying to do — to expand our sheltering capacity.”

In a statement, Mangano said, “Our emergency preparedness efforts must reflect the needs of all Nassau County residents, and I am pleased that this new shelter will take into consideration the religious practices of the members of the Five Towns and surrounding communities.”

Nassau County Red Cross CEO Frank Cassano and volunteer Bruce Gold gave a tour on Dec. 20 of West Hempstead High School to Mangano and Callahan, and religious and community leaders, including Rabbi Kenneth Hain of Congregation Beth Shalom in Lawrence and state Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre).

“I commend the Nassau County Red Cross for their efforts in working to establish the first-of-its-kind kosher emergency shelter at the West Hempstead High School,” Skelos said. “This initiative will ensure that all residents of the Five Towns and West Hempstead are provided with necessary supplies and will go a long way in saving lives in the event a catastrophe hits.”

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