GREAT NECK, New York — As a yellow forklift deposited a pallet of N95 masks at the edge of a small parking lot, masked volunteers began filling every nook and cranny of a station wagon with boxes of the protective gear.
What could be mistaken for a staging ground of relief supplies after a devastating hurricane was instead the parking lot of Beit Medrash of Great Neck. It’s here that Rabbi Eitan Rubin, the yeshiva’s head, supervises the delivery of desperately needed medical supplies to area hospitals.
That such a relief effort was — and is — needed, surprised Rubin.
“I wouldn’t have thought it was possible for something like this to happen here,” Rubin told The Times of Israel, speaking through a blue surgical mask. “As much as we might want to blame the government about supply issues I think we have to look at it from a bigger perspective. We need to focus on how we’re working together, and our strength in numbers.”
In less than an hour the 20 volunteers working with Rubin would start dropping off supplies at 17 locations, including Maimonides Hospital in Brooklyn, Long Island Jewish Medical Center, and Mt. Sinai Brooklyn. They would also deliver supplies to local EMTs and nursing homes.
Rubin got involved in this charity work in mid-March after receiving a call from Stephen Odzer, a business associate. Odzer, who lives in Nevada, distributes janitorial supplies through his company BT Supplies West, Inc.
At the time, Odzer had realized his inventory was dwindling and asked Rubin if he could help find investors who might buy more masks and hand sanitizer. He had 85 employees that he had promised not to lay off, and clients who needed stock.
Rubin said he’d help, but that he wanted to ensure supplies could be donated to New York Hospitals, which were being inundated with the first wave of COVID-19 patients.
“He’s a rabbi — the way his brain works is he wanted to know how do we help people,” Odzer told The Times of Israel over the phone.
Odzer — who isn’t new to charitable giving — gave Rubin an initial contribution of $100,000. Rubin then set up a GoFundMe page. With subsequent donations ranging from $36 to $75,000 Rubin has so far raised $403,322 of his $2 million goal.
“After 9/11 we took comfort knowing that people from all over cared for us and so it doesn’t surprise me the way people are pulling together,” Rubin said.
To date Rubin and his volunteers have sourced tens of thousands of masks and bottles of hand sanitizer from Odzer for the cause. The most recent shipment of 50,000 masks and 8,0000 bottles of hand sanitizer had arrived the previous night from China, where Odzer’s company gets its supplies.
Assisting Rubin were Beit Medrash of Great Neck’s college-aged students, Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine students, and a real estate agent. They were eager to help the state that tops both the nation and the world in reported COVID-19 cases and fatalities.
As of April 17 there were a reported 14,636 deaths in the state, of which 11,477 were in New York City. There were 222,284 confirmed cases in the state, and 123,146 in New York City.
One of those cases was Rubin’s father-in-law. Discharged from the hospital just before Passover, he’s recovering at home. The rest of Rubin’s family started self-isolating nearly two months ago.
Meanwhile, in Nassau County on Long Island, where Rubin oversees his deliveries, there have been 1,109 reported deaths and 27,772 confirmed cases. Less than five miles from the staging ground, in the parking lot of LIJ Medical Center is a refrigerated trailer that serves as a mobile morgue. It’s an all too familiar sight at hospitals across the state.
But there was a glimmer of hope this week. For the first time new hospitalizations for Covid-19 fell from 462 on April 10 to 383 people on April 11, according to the New York City Health Department.
Nevertheless, the hunt for supplies continues. It’s a hunt that surprised third-year medical student Ben Traisman, on hand to help out at the Beit Medrash of Great Neck.
After the Touro Medical College student was pulled from his rotation, he joined Behind Our Heroes — a group of fellow student volunteers that does everything from helping with childcare to delivering food and supplies to hospitals.
“Working in hospitals we never thought about shortages, the resources were always available,” Traisman said, speaking through a gray and white-checkered cloth mask. “This changes the way we think about public health and the importance of partnering with community groups.”
In the coming days Rubin hopes to secure up to 40,000 isolation suits and gowns.
“We all have one purpose here, to help people,” Rubin said.
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