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Monday, November 14, 2005

Volunteers aid Broward seniors stranded in high-rises without power

by Lisa J. Huriash

As the food in her refrigerator spoiled without electricity and her cabinets went bare, Pearl Stern ate bread and water throughout the week.

Some of her neighbors at Century Village in Boca Raton have emptied their cookie jars. One said she has eaten all the candy she had.

"I have nothing in the house to eat, nothing," Stern said.

As seniors without electricity see their food supplies diminish, local agencies said the seniors face other issues. Ailing seniors on high floors of condos can't use the elevators to get down to make their way to feeding sites or the grocery store. Even if they can walk down, many can't get back up the steps lugging heavy groceries. Some have religious or dietary restrictions, such as religious Jews and Muslims, who shy away from the ham sandwiches served at many American Red Cross centers.

Others who can get out to the store are terrified to drive through intersections without traffic lights.

On Tuesday, Broward County Meals on Wheels began delivering a two-week supply of meals to 1,500 homebound seniors. The meals are in cans, because the agency's caterer lost electricity and can't cook, said CEO John Pudwell.

"They get what we can provide them," said Peggy Miller, the agency's executive director. "Until they [the caterer] get power up, this is what we could get as fast as could get. Nobody likes the cans. I'm hoping this makes them appreciate the heated meals because that cost us a whole lot more."

In Tamarac, where seniors make up more than half the population, city spokeswoman Lucy Crockett said volunteers, including city staff, began knocking on doors in senior condos on Sunday asking if people were OK.

"We're helping people find food. [One city employee] repaired a window for a man who had hip surgery and didn't have any food," Crockett said. "The usual means have not been available. We have Tamarac Transit Service that takes seniors to shop, but the transit hasn't been running on a regular schedule so that's not available."

Private religious groups have taken the matter into their own hands.

Sofian Abdelaziz Zakkout, director of the American Muslim Association of North America in Miami, said his agency distributed 15 meals Monday, including potatoes, soup, crackers and bottled water to those in need. More help is expected. "The seniors have problems getting the right food when food is hard to get," he said.

Since the storm, more than 20,000 kosher meals have been flown into Broward County from Chabad Lubavitch headquarters in Brooklyn. The meals cost the orthodox agency about $8 each. They are being delivered free of charge to seniors in need. Late Wednesday, another 5,000 meals, which heat automatically when water is added, were to be delivered from New York for seniors in Broward and Palm Beach counties. The meals are given to everyone, but Chabad scouts out Jewish residents by walking the halls and looking for the religious parchments hooked to doorposts.

More than a dozen volunteers from Chabad have fanned out at Century Village in Boca Raton each day this week bringing packets of beef stew, stuffed cabbage, and meatballs and spaghetti. Chabad's door-to-door service continues today. "FEMA shmeema, we have each other," said Akiva Shapiro, the senior program director at Chabad Lubavitch of Coral Springs.

Rebbetzin Baila Gansburg of Chabad Lubavitch of Coconut Creek said she has delivered meals to hungry seniors who didn't want to break with Jewish tradition that forbids pork products and mixing meat and milk. One elderly Margate man told her on Wednesday that he hadn't eaten in a week.

"They are not going to eat bologna and cheese," she said.

Esta Mittman of Century Village in Boca Raton said she couldn't wait to eat the pepper steak that was delivered to her door in a box. She's been surviving on crackers and tuna fish since the power went out and it's getting a tad boring.

"I hate tuna fish," she giggled as Gansburg demonstrated how the meals work.

The Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County has also helped frail seniors in several condo communities by delivering food, water, ice and prescription medicines. In addition, the agency has called 5,000 clients to check on their conditions.

Nearly 17,000 hot kosher meals have been distributed at the Florida Jewish Senior Center in Hallandale Beach since Sunday morning, said agency spokeswoman Margaret Kessler, which serves mostly residents throughout the north Miami-Dade and south Broward area.

"If you keep kosher, you can't just go buy a can of Spam," Kessler said.

Lisa J. Huriash can be reached at lhuriash@sun-sentinel.com or 954-572-2008.

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