In the aftermath of the devastating Woolsey Fire, leaders of Chabad in Malibu asked themselves, “What can we do to immediately be helpful?”
According to Rabbi Levi Cunin, “The obvious answer was to attend to the needs of those who suffered so they don’t have to be worried about finding a new wardrobe or something like that if everything is gone.”
Cunin, the local Chabad leader, said, “By divine providence” the lease on Chabad’s store at 22933 Pacific Coast Highway was not yet completed with a new tenant, so “with a little leeway” the Jewish organization known for charitable works opened a donation center.
“It’s amazing how many people have reached out offering help, clothes and other goods,” Cunin said. “We’ve had an amazing outpouring of generosity from both local people and everywhere around LA.” Now with donations of clothing, toiletries and other goods, 1,300 square feet is filled and waiting for those in need to stop by and pick up anything they could use.
Cunin said donations started immediately when he was overwhelmed by people offering to help.
“People know Chabad throughout the world,” Cunin said. “Whenever [a disaster] goes on, Chabad has always opened its doors to be of assistance. So naturally, when people found out what was going on, they called, left emails and texts saying, ‘We want to help. We want to help.’”
The rabbi said the plan is to keep the donation center open throughout the week of Chanukah, which started Sunday.
“We had a lot of traffic that came through as soon as we opened, but it started to slow down,” he explained. The donation center has actually had to turn people away from dropping off more goods because there simply is no more space to store it. According to Cunin, the plan is to ship all leftover goods to Paradise after immediate local needs are met.
Those coming in the donation center are “people that would be your next-door neighbor.”
“I’m so happy they came in,” he said. The rabbi pointed out many of the donations are new or never used previously. “A lot of people are still like deer in headlights. They have to buy a whole new wardrobe. It’s crazy. At least we can give them the opportunity to pick up something. Now they don’t have to figure out that part of their life.
“We have so many families whose homes burned down,” he continued. “People came in for high-chairs, strollers—it wasn’t just clothing. With all the other headaches, it took the burden of shopping away. It really was a big mitzvah (act of kindness).”
One thing the donation center wasn’t prepared for “was how many people wanted bedding,” according to Cunin.
At least 15 members of the local Chabad community lost their homes in the blaze, including an 88-year-old man who had been a resident for more than three decades. Chabad was storing a huge menorah at the residence, which was lost.
A generous donor came forward to fund a new menorah, which is lit during Chanukah. Cunin concluded with one of his favorite principles saying, “A little bit of light gets rid of a lot of darkness.”
Chabad has a website, OnewithMalibu.com, to help meet the needs of area residents with verified GoFundMe donation sites.