Rabbi Chaim Slavaticki of Fort Lauderdale, FL set up a drive-through mask distribution center to help Florida residents and healthcare workers stay safe amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
By Anash.org reporter
The ‘coronavirus era’ has proven to be one of uncertainty, with guidelines and recommendations surrounding COVID-19 constantly changing and people floundering to keep up. When world leaders and public health organizations recently concluded that masks are essential to prevent the pandemic’s spread, Rabbi Chaim Slavaticki of Fort Lauderdale, FL realized that many people would have difficulty obtaining them.
Rabbi Slavaticki is well-known in the area for both his resourcefulness and his commitment to helping others. It came as no surprise when he informed his community that he had a contact ready to supply him with thousands of masks and needed their help mobilizing a response team.
“Since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, we have been aware of hundreds of community members and South Florida residents who are at risk and unable to obtain essentials,” Rabbi Slavaticki told Anash.org. “The community has made massive efforts to reach out to as many people as possible, and to provide them with their needs.”
It was these individuals who Rabbi Slavaticki had in mind when he initiated the drive-through. Almost immediately, however, he discovered that local hospitals and health care centers were in dire need of the masks as well.
“Shockingly, many healthcare workers requested multiple units, as they had no access to masks at their places of work,” said a member of the Zebersky family, who sponsored the entire project. “We’ve donated a ton of masks to some of these hospitals. It is highly concerning that the heroes who are putting their lives at risk are still not getting necessary safety gear.”
Several days before the mask drive, a group of volunteers came to the Chabad Center to repackage the masks for distribution. The mask-and-glove-clad volunteers stood six feet apart from one another, yet the caring and camaradarie in the room were palpable.
“Many of the volunteers are members of our Las Olas Chabad community,” Slavaticki said. “But as the news spread, the idea grew wings. Several local organizations partnered with us to mobilize additional help. We received calls from people we’d never met who wanted to lend a hand. These are the helpers every community needs; they are true heroes.”
On erev yom tov, Rabbi Slavaticki reached out to City Commissioner Ben Sorenson to let him know about the drive planned for later that week. Just 15 minutes before, Sorenson had become aware that homeless shelters in the area were in desperate need of masks. Immediately, he asked if Chabad had 500 masks to spare for Hope South Florida, an organization that provides meals to the homeless.
“He said to tell him where, and they would be delivered,” said Sorenson, who received the masks less than 3 hours later. “It was G-d at work.”
On Friday, April 17, around thirty volunteers stood outside the Chabad Center as 3,000 cars drove by to receive their free masks. They were joined by Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis, who donned a baseball cap featuring the logo of the Las Olas Chabad’s Friendship Cafe and offered masks and words of encouragement to all who passed by.
“The community has pitched in admirably to ensure the disease does not spread,” said Mayor Trantalis. “The line to get these masks has been going down for miles. We’re all here to ensure that Fort Lauderdale and our neighboring cities are able to come out of this with the least impact.”
“The Chabad here on Las Olas has been so generous,” the mayor added.
Knowing that people are struggling emotionally during this difficult time, the volunteers attached an uplifting message to each mask pointing out that kindness, love, patience and positivity are also highly contagious. ‘Be a carrier,’ the message reads.
“It’s not enough to stop the spread of the coronavirus,” Rabbi Slavaticki emphatically declared. “We must unite the community – and the world – around the universal values of hope, loving-kindness and faith.”