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‘This is a gut-wrenching scene.’ How to help victims of the Surfside condo collapse

·10 min read

As news of the partial collapse of the Champlain Towers in Surfside spread across the nation, organizations began efforts to support victims who were forced out of their homes in the wee hours of the morning with little to nothing.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said Thursday that the county is working with the American Red Cross, the county’s social service agency and police and fire departments “to make sure those people are properly situated.”

“This is a predominantly Jewish community and we’ve had the rabbis and chaplains on hand,” she said. “The people in the community center are getting the support they need. Not only are they getting hotel rooms, they’re getting help with their medicine, with blankets, with clothing, because there they are with nothing.”

From the Greater Miami Jewish Federation to Florida Blue, here are ways victims can find aid and others can help donate supplies.

‘A gut-wrenching scene.’ Greater Miami Jewish Federation supplies aid to victims

Jacob Solomon, president and CEO of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation, said he went to the scene to “get a better handle on what the needs are.”

Solomon said rabbis from across South Florida and from every denomination showed up to offer support and prayers. Israeli Consul General Maor Elbaz-Starinsky also went to help comfort those affected by the collapse.

“This is a gut-wrenching scene,” he said. “The real challenge is going to be in the long term.”

Solomon said the federation will set up a fund that will go directly to the families to “help them rebuild their lives.”

He also said that people are encouraged to call 2-1-1, which is the Jewish Community’s 24/7 hotline that can help with housing, counseling and other services. If you have been affected by the collapse, you can call 211 to learn how to get services.

By 3:30 p.m. the Greater Miami Jewish Federation had put together a campaign to help Surfside building collapse victims.

“Be part of the Jewish community’s response,” the federation said in a mass email. “Help those affected by the collapse of the Champlain Towers South in Surfside, FL.”

The “emergency assistance fund” will help take care of short-term and long-term needs.

The federation teamed up with Jewish Community Services of South Florida, and Mishkan Miami, the Jewish Connection for Spiritual Support to provide financial assistance, chaplaincy support, crisis counseling and social services.

The federation says that 100 percent of funds collected will be used to provide assistance to those affected.

Checks with the notation “Surfside Building Collapse” can be mailed to: Greater Miami Jewish Federation, 4200 Biscayne Blvd., Miami, FL 33137.

For more information about the Greater Miami Jewish Federation’s special relief funds, call 305-576-4000.

Operation Helping Hands

Operation Helping Hands is a partnership between United Way of Miami-Dade and the Miami Herald/el Nuevo Herald that was created in 1998 in the aftermath of hurricanes Mitch and Georges. Since then, it has been reactivated in response to disasters and other emergency situations such as the COVID-19 global pandemic and now, the aftermath of the building collapse in Surfside.

Here’s how to support and assist families with their short- and long-term recovery needs:

Operation Helping Hands donation link

VolunteerMiami volunteer link

Miami Heat, Knight Foundation and others team up to create hardship fund for victims

The Miami Heat, the Miami Heat Charitable Fund, the Coral Gables Community Foundation, the Key Biscayne Community Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and The Miami Foundation are working together to build a hardship fund for those impacted by the Surfside building collapse.

This hardship fund will allow residents both locally, and nationwide, to give toward relief efforts.

Contributions to the fund can be made here.

GoFundMe creates hub to find fundraisers aiding survivors

Following the partial condo collapse, GoFundMe has created a hub for willing donors to safely aid survivors of the tragedy.

So far, GoFundMe is tracking six fundraisers that have been verified. You can find the donation hub here.

One fundraiser is to help the Gonzalez family who fell from the ninth to the fifth floor. Deven and Angela Gonzalez were among the first to be pulled from the rubble, and the search is still ongoing for their father and husband, Edgar, the fundraiser read.

Both Deven and Angela suffered injuries and are recovering.

American Red Cross

The American Red Cross is at the scene of the collapse helping authorities with rescue efforts. It offers several online and mail options for donating.

The Red Cross isn’t yet accepting donations for the collapse, but does for the organization and other disasters.”

To donate online visit https://www.redcross.org/donate/donation.html. For those who want to donate by check or to a specific cause, there is a donation form that must be printed and sent to: American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37839, Boone, IA 50037-0839.

To donate by phone or to get assistance with your donation, call 1-800-HELP NOW (1-800-435-7669). For Spanish, call 1-800-435-7669, and for a TDD operator call 1-800-220-4095.

Shul of Bal Harbour, Skylake Synagogue ask for items in donation triage

A steady flow of donations is pouring into the Shul of Bal Harbour, where on Thursday evening a group of around 20 volunteers unloaded crates of food, blankets, and more to be distributed to community members displaced by the condo collapse.

An online donation fund set up by the Shul of Bal Harbour had raised more than $160,000 by Thursday afternoon from over 1,300 donors.

Donations will be “dispersed as needed directly for the victims and families” of the building collapse, according to the website the Shul set up.

“People are coming together more than ever,” said Ryan Mermer, a member of the Shul and the community engagement coordinator for Holocaust Heroes Worldwide. “The community is coming together.”

Mermer said that at noon he started a WhatsApp group for community service in the Surfside Jewish community. An hour later, 50 people had joined.

The Shul and Young Israel of Bal Harbour, a Jewish youth group, have set up donation sites in the neighborhood, including one in front of the Shul, a large Orthodox synagogue.

Community members are being asked to bring items to the Shul at 9540 Collins Ave. Donation items include: blankets, phone chargers, sweatshirts, Advil, water and snacks, according to the email flier.

A security guard outside the synagogue said community members have been bringing donations for families whose homes were destroyed in the building collapse.

The Skylake Synagogue, at 1850 NE 183rd St., is also asking for donations, which will be sent to the Shul of Bal Harbour. The Skylake Synagogue is also asking for people who can drive vans to take items.

Items being asked for by Skylake are:

Sweatshirts

Phone chargers

Drinks

Blankets

Pillows

Snacks

Isack Merenfeld, a member of Skylake Synagogue, an Orthodox shul in North Miami Beach, said he quickly rented a U-Haul this afternoon after a call from his rabbi, and brought his two sons along to help unload the donations. Skylake served as a drop-off point for anyone who wanted to donate.

With the Sabbath approaching on Friday night, the observant Jewish community has collected separate boxes of challah, wine, and other necessities for the weekly ritual day of rest.

Every food and drink item transported in his rented truck was kosher, Merenfeld said. Other trucks, following and preceding him, many of which were headed for the community center now being used as a family reunification center, included non-kosher food.

Among non-food items were air mattresses, pillows, clothing, and electronics like phone chargers.

Asked whether community members like him plan to invite displaced Jewish neighbors to their for Shabbat tomorrow night, Merenfeld said, “Obviously that will happen. Without question.”

Catholic Charities, local Archdiocese of Miami clergy join rescue efforts

Archbishop Thomas Wenski of the Archdiocese of Miami says Catholic Charities and local clergy are joining relief efforts.

“We all woke up this morning learning about the tragic news of the partial collapse of a 12-story condominium in Surfside,” he said in a statement. “Our hearts go out to all those affected by the tragedy.”

Charities and local clergy have joined other voluntary agencies and faith leaders to assist in whatever way they can, Wenski said.

“It’s part of the mission that we live, to be able to help those that are in need. And so whether it’s us being here and just letting people know that we’re present, that we’re thinking about them, and that we’re here to help in whatever way we’re able to,” said Jackie Carrion, senior director of Community Based Services at Catholic Charities.

Catholic Charities is on-site to see what resources families will need. Catholic Charities is accepting donations for those affected by Thursday’s tragedy. Information on how to donate can be found online at ccadm.org.

“It’s just a very sad situation. I mean, the look on so many faces, it’s heartbreaking,” Carrion said.”It’s even more shocking when you’re able to put the face on people that are here, that are just waiting, that want to know what happened to their loved ones. And you see the look of sadness. It’s heartbreaking.”

State resources open for businesses, displaced residents affected by collapse

Businesses affected by the partial collapse of the condominium complex in Surfside are being asked to complete a damage assessment survey to help the state direct resources to them.

Gov. Ron DeSantis announced that the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity has activated the Business Damage Assessment Survey to gather such information on the impacted local community to ensure proper resources are available.

“Our hearts go out to the Floridians impacted by the tragedy that occurred in Surfside today,” DeSantis said in a statement. “I want to thank our brave first responders who took swift action to save lives. The state of Florida is committed to providing the resources necessary to help the community recover.”

The FDEO is using the survey to assess how much revenue loss, physical damage and other impacts the damage has had on local businesses.

It will share the results with various state and local agencies to implement appropriate relief programs. The survey can be taken at FloridaDisaster.biz BusinessDamageAssessments by selecting the “Surfside Condo Collapse.” For additional assistance, please call 850-815-4925.

The Florida Housing Finance Corporation has also been directed to begin actively working with landlords in Miami-Dade to find rental vacancies for any displaced residents of the condo complex in Surfside.

Displaced residents can use FHFC’s rental locator at https://www.floridahousingsearch.org/ or call 1-877-428-8844 if they are unable to access the website.

Florida Blue offers grief counseling help line

Florida Blue, along with New Directions Behavioral Health, is offering a free 24-hour-a-day grief counseling help line for those in need of support following the Surfside collapse.

Callers will be connected to trained professionals, who can help people experiencing feelings of stress, anxiety, trauma and grief.

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Anyone in Florida is eligible and insurance is not needed. The help line, which also offers bilingual emotional support, can be reached at 833-848-1762.

Miami Herald Reporters Mary Ellen Klas, Michelle Marchante and Marie-Rose Sheinerman contributed to this report.

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