Like many, Souheil and Lisa Badran were glued to the news coverage late last year as the East Coast was devastated by Superstorm Sandy, one of the worst storms in the history of the area. Like many, they felt a deep sense of concern for those affected, and wanted to find a way to help. But while many reached for their checkbooks or clicked to the website of an aid organization to make a donation, the Badrans felt called to go further.
As they talked about options, the Badrans agreed they wanted to do something concrete for people who were suffering, ensuring that their efforts would have the most direct impact possible on the lives of those affected.
“We wanted to make sure whatever we donated went directly to people in need,” said Lisa.
Lisa, a long-time volunteer with the St. Vincent de Paul Society, got in touch with a local chapter of the organization in New York to learn about the hurricane relief it was providing. She learned that short-term needs for clothing and food had, for the most part, already been filled. However, a huge need still remained for bedding, household items and furniture for people whose homes had been damaged or destroyed, and who were moving from temporary housing to long-term living situations.
Gradually, the idea took shape: the Badrans would rent a truck and collect supplies, especially furniture. When the truck was full, Souheil would drive it to New York. The St. Vincent de Paul Society agreed to partner with the Badrans by receiving the donated items at a warehouse in Huntington, N.Y.
The next step was to get the word out. Souheil and Lisa are members of Holy Family Parish in Whitefish Bay, and have children at two Whitefish Bay Catholic schools: Holy Family Parish School and Dominican High School. Both schools spread the word through newsletters and word of mouth.
The Badrans also submitted a press release to TV stations. They were excited when the story was picked up by Channel 12, as the publicity brought more help from individuals and businesses around Milwaukee.
Through a coworker, Lisa connected with Rachel Arbit at BiltRite Furniture, a family-owned Milwaukee company with a commitment to community and charitable involvement. BiltRite provided eight mattresses at a reduced price. When Arbit learned more about the effort, she asked that the Badran family bring the truck to BiltRite for additional donations. One of the family owners hand-selected an array of furniture and mattresses. By the time BiltRite was done loading, a quarter of the truck was full.
Another step was to open the truck to the public. Its first stop was Dominican High School. The truck was parked in the parking lot with a large, homemade sign saying “Hurricane Sandy Relief.” Donors stopped by throughout the day with furniture, canned goods, childcare items and toys. Dominican High School students helped load donations that had already arrived and were being stored in a classroom.
Next, the truck was taken to Holy Family where it was visible to families coming for the annual school Christmas concert. More donations arrived.
Once the truck was full, Souheil made the 20-hour drive. His original plan was to stop for the night, but his enthusiasm for his mission kept him going.
“What with the excitement – and the coffee – I drove straight through,” Souheil laughed.
He arrived at the St. Vincent de Paul distribution center and was welcomed by a team of volunteers. They were touched to learn the distance he had driven to bring them help.
When asked whether he met any of the people whose lives were affected by the hurricane, Souheil pointed out that the people in need of help and the people helping were one and the same. Virtually all of the volunteers he spoke with at the St. Vincent de Paul distribution center had either experienced hurricane damage themselves or had a close family member whose home had been affected.
One woman Souheil met had volunteered with the St. Vincent de Paul Society for more than 15 years. Her father’s house had been destroyed, and the first floor of her own home had been heavily damaged. However, her first response to the devastation was to determine how she could best use her time to help others in need.
“The generosity of the people in the area is unbelievable,” Souheil said.
Despite the outpouring of generosity locally and nationally, the area struck by the hurricane is still months or years away from restoration.
“People are still going through the rebuilding process,” Souheil said. “They have a long way to go.”
Lisa and Souheil talked enthusiastically about how their Catholic faith underlies their commitment to efforts like this one.
“Being raised a Catholic and going to Catholic schools, you are constantly learning about ways to help others,” said Lisa.
“It’s all about giving back,” added Souheil. “Everyone should find some way to give back, whether it’s coaching, serving at church, or donating money.”
However, they quickly pointed out that what they accomplished is a result of much more than a personal commitment to help those in need.
“The best part was getting the whole community involved,” said Souheil. “It wasn’t just my faith. It was the faith of the community.”