It’s hurricane season, and for Dorothy Maples that means she’s usually anywhere but Minnesota. As the operations director for NECHAMA: The Jewish Response To Disaster, She had spent two years in Puerto Rico, and months at a time in Texas. In her four years as a Minnesota resident, little of it was spent here. But now, the Powderhorn Park neighborhood resident is able to help much closer to home.
Each day, Maples opens and closes the shower trailer that NECHAMA has put in the Powderhorn Park Sanctuary for those residing in the tent encampment to use.
“In the past, we’d pull the shower trailer in [to disaster-affected areas] so volunteers would have the ability to shower if they staying at church or synagogue,” said NECHAMA Administrator Kristine Seabloom. “It’s an asset we’d love to share more if able.”
The shower trailer has been in place for about three weeks on the north side of the encampment.
“It was just sitting in our warehouse, and in an ongoing pandemic, you need hygiene available,” said Maples. “It lifts people’s spirits if can they can take care of themselves. It’s low hanging fruit.”
Grace Berke, the community coordinator for the Powderhorn Park Neighborhood Association, was familiar with NECHAMA through Angela Satcher, who is NECHAMA’s development director – and Maples’ wife.
“Once the PPNA started communicating about our work and supporting the encampment, Angela reached out,” said Berke, who added that the PPNA’s role is to support the organizers and residents of the encampment, not take over the initiative. “It was probably five or six days from when the tents went up to getting power and water access. We’re glad it happened eventually, but that was an unacceptable amount of time. Especially in a pandemic.”
The Powderhorn Park encampment started in mid-June after the Midtown Sheraton, which was being used as a homeless shelter in the wake of the protests following the death of George Floyd, saw the 200 people staying there evicted. The Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board had ordered people camping in the park to be evicted, but reversed its decision and decided to allow the homeless people to stay. Now, there are an estimated 600 people there.
“Once COVID hit, we had to look at how we could still be active since we weren’t traveling or bringing volunteers in. So we started to looking locally,” Maples said. She is the active vice-president of the Minnesota Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, and NECHAMA started helping with the distribution of food items to shelters. Since the protests after Floyd’s death, volunteers have been helping businesses clean up on Lake Street. “We ended up being very busy – and still are.”
NECHAMA also helped the Footprint Project, which has solar-powered charging stations and medic tent, get set up at the park. The two organizations had worked together in their work in the aftermath of previous natural disasters
In order to get the shower trailer up and running, NECHAMA needed to work with the Park Board to supply water and power. Maples heads over to open it at 8 a.m. each morning and closes it up at 4 p.m. The line to use the facilities started before she gets there each morning, and there are volunteers to keep an eye on the trailer and make sure it is getting cleaned each day.
“On a personal level, it’s a great way to give back and get connected locally and show what the organization stands for,” Maples said. “It has been an amazing opportunity, and it opens our doors to who we are, and that people can reach out to us for different needs.”
Said Seabloom: “It’s so much different when it’s in your own backyard. Being able to step and help where it’s needed is amazing.”