BERLIN (JTA) — A Jewish woman in Berlin with family in hard-hit Staten Island, NY, started a clothing drive for those affected by superstorm Sandy.

Bella Zchwiraschwili, an event manager, was moved to action after seeing what happened to her own aunts, uncles and cousins. Zchwiraschwili asked her contacts at Chabad in Berlin if they would open their doors for donations, and she said they were more than willing. Items have started to arrive.

Berliners are being encouraged to bring clothing and small toys to the Chabad center on Tuesday and Wednesday. The items will be brought to the American Embassy and Red Cross Berlin later in the week to be shipped.

“Many people think, ‘Oh, America is rich country, it will be OK,” Zchwiraschwili said. “But I practically lived through this with my family, and they are an example of how people lost everything from one day to the next.”

Zchwiraschwili’s relatives, emigrants from Odessa like herself, settled on Staten Island. The family, which since has grown, lived close together.

During the storm, most of the family was evacuated in dinghies. But two people stayed behind to try to rescue possessions from the house. Zchwiraschwili spoke to them as they literally were swimming through the house. The police came eventually and ordered them to leave after the sewage pipes in the area burst.

“Last Sunday they returned to the house. They said everything inside is destroyed,” according to Zchwiraschwili. It remains to be seen whether the house itself can be rebuilt. Her relatives are now living with other family in New Jersey and Long Island.

Zchwiraschwili said many initiatives similar to the one she launched are being undertaken by churches and other groups in Berlin.

“I wanted to help the people, and also to get people here to wake up a bit because there are too few such initiatives in general,” she said. “You don’t have to wait for a crisis to be active.”