The American Red Cross recently designated a local school as an evacuation shelter that caters to the cultural needs of the Jewish community.
West Hempstead High School is now a kosher disaster evacuation shelter — the first of its kind in Nassau County — created specifically for the very large orthodox community of the Five Towns area, which is particularly vulnerable to flooding in the event of a major hurricane. The school was designated as such in mid-December, after the Red Cross reached out to district officials to propose the idea.
“It’s out of the flood area,” said Red Cross spokesman Sam Kille. “It also is close to the evacuation route that comes from the Five Towns — Peninsula Boulevard — so those were the key factors.”
The design of the high school building itself, located at 400 Nassau Blvd., was taken into consideration as well. Unlike most Red Cross and county shelters where men, women and children share sleeping and gathering space, the layout of West Hempstead High School allows for separate quarters for men and women — which caters to the needs of the Jewish orthodox community.
“The high school is a large building and certainly could accommodate a large number of people quite easily,” said West Hempstead schools Superintendent John Hogan. “Anything we can do to assist the community, particularly in a time of emergency, is something that we’re going to try to do.”
The Red Cross has a stockpile of kosher Meals, Ready to Eat — commonly known as MRE — that it will store at the high school. It will also have volunteers trained to respect the cultural traditions of the orthodox Jewish community, Kille said: they will be Community Emergency Response Team members from the Five Towns area.
“Red Cross is constantly looking for ways to address diversity and cultural needs,” Kille said.