May 30, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Chaverim of Teaneck Dive In to Help Neighbors

Teaneck–Playing with his brother and jumping in a massive pile of leaves on a recent afternoon, a six-year-old boy lost a key part of his cochlear implant hearing aid. Without this external speech processor, he was unable to hear, and he, his parents, and his brother knew the piece would be both expensive and difficult to replace. As the parents initiated what they feared would be an arduous and potentially pointless search, a neighbor called the Chaverim (friends) of Teaneck, and in full darkness, more than five hours after the piece was lost, a huge cheer went up from the group that had formed, celebrating having found the hearing aid, intact and unbroken.

“We want to thank our neighbors for their generosity and help. And we want to thank Chaverim for their invaluable assistance. We feel very grateful that there is such an organization in our community,” said Neil Normand, in a letter to the Jewish Link published last week.

Chaverim of Teaneck is a small but strong organization, founded in 2009 by Yehuda Feig, David Roberts, and Leib Kohn, when they were post-high school yeshiva students at Yeshiva Gedolah (now Yeshivas Bais Mordechai). “We wanted to do something in our spare time, to give back to others. We started off with just four guys,” said Feig. They are now all in their mid to late 20s, and have married and live locally. “Through Chaverim, we do what we can to give back,” Feig added.

Today, with close to 25 devoted Chaverim involved as members, the three founders remain the primary coordinators of the group, and they serve the greater Teaneck community for people experiencing car trouble or urgent non-medical issues of other types. Chaverim doesn’t have a clear boundary for where they do or don’t provide service, but they most often serve Englewood, Tenafly, and the Teaneck/Bergenfield/New Milford region, but will also go to Fort Lee or other close towns as necessary and if possible.

Similar Chaverim groups are established in Brooklyn and Monsey and are now present in over 15 communities worldwide. “We’re not an emergency services provider, but when people are in a pickle or dire situation and they need help, we provide free roadside assistance, a boost, gas, and help people if they’ve locked their keys in their cars, etc.,” said Feig.

For example, “Last winter, someone called at two o’clock in the morning. Someone’s battery in their car had died. Chaverim member (and Bergenfield resident) Aaron Mallin got out of bed, got into his car and went to Englewood and gave the person a boost,” he said.

“A lot of what we do is car related, but we do many things,” explained Roberts. “If elderly people need to have a box moved, or if someone has flooding, we have all the equipment. We provide a lot of other services. Anything from the small things to the even bigger things,” he said.

Most members of Chaverim are employed full time, and they use dispatches through group text messaging to communicate and send people out on calls. During a regular week, they average 15 calls, but that number is constantly increasing, and also increases and decreases seasonally. During storms, such as Hurricane Irene, they had 50 to 70 calls in one day. “We’re now gearing up for the winter season,” said Feig.

Feig and Roberts said they are trying to expand their services to be available to respond to the increasing number of calls, and that they are seeking new members, though every new member must have an extensive background check, and be screened and vetted through numerous sources before being brought on, including through the potential new member’s rav. Every member who comes on needs to be set up with equipment, and the group is in the process of purchasing customized, weatherized reflective vests for safety on the road, for all members.

While the vests will cost the group a few thousand dollars, it costs another $180 per person to set up every new member with supplies and materials. But it is a necessary cost they gladly take on. “We are not the type of organization that actively goes out and solicits funds. There are a lot of worthy local organizations that need money. Some people donate money to us from time to time, and we appreciate that. But we never ask from those we are helping,” said Roberts. “For the most part, if funds are needed, we are able to get it,” he said. Periodically, the group sends out postcards reminding people of their number, so people know to call if they need to.

Feig and Roberts also noted that a lot of other Chaverim organizations have raised money to buy trucks, but it is their intention to stay small. “We want to keep costs down. We just want to be friends helping friends. We are happy to help,” Feig said.

Chaverim’s hotline number, which is answered by a live person 24 hours a day, six days a week, is 201-800-HELP (4357). For donations or other communications, the address is PO Box 664, Teaneck, NJ 07666. Chaverim can also be reached at [email protected].

By Elizabeth Kratz

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