Mordechai Roizman has a heart for those in need: After Hurricane Sandy wreaked devastation across New York City and coastal New Jersey, he joined those helping residents who had lost everything, pitching in to help distribute food, clothing and dry goods.
But Roizman, a 48-year-old veteran of boardroom battles and executive strategy sessions knew that, in the Jewish community at least, there had to be a better way to deliver help to those who needed it most.
The experiences of the Monsey, N.Y.-based Roizman in the post-Sandy cleanup gave birth to Olam Chesed, a nonprofit organization that aims to function much like the United Way and Red Cross, developing a network of businesses eager to donate written-off inventory and then distributing those goods to needy individuals and families.
And while for the past several years the enterprise has quietly been providing such top-shelf items as donated La-Z-Boys, overstocked Purim costumes and returned Toys “R” Us merchandise to poor families in Monsey, N.Y., it was again put to the disaster relief test when Hurricanes Harvey and Irma ravaged the Houston area and Florida.
“This is far beyond anything I’ve done,” said Roizman, a father of five who holds a business degree. “This is by far the most invested I’ve been in anything, in terms of my personal, emotional commitment, but also in terms of time and energy.”
Roizman’s vision is a simple one, but according to his count, no other Jewish organization has yet come up with a model where large amounts of goods can be donated cost-free, warehoused and then distributed. Corporations get rid of inventory all the time, determining that the opened, but unused, mixer returned to Bed, Bath & Beyond, for instance, the overstocked sofa or the discontinued model is unsellable and better used as a tax write-off. Except that corporations deal in volume, as in multiple pallets at a time.
“I saw these trucks that were being delivered to the United Way, to the Red Cross,” Roizman said of the merchandise businesses donated after Sandy. “We were buying it wholesale. Millions and millions of dollars were being spent.”
Additionally, “in the Jewish community, there was a mass call for items. People were spending their bar mitzvah money [on goods]. But 80 to 90 percent of it was thrown away.”
From its base in Monsey, Olam Chesed, which is also known as the National Council of Jewish Charities, maintains loading docks and warehouse space necessary to accommodate corporations’ large donations. Its clients, who are pre-screened, promise to never return, sell or barter the items they receive. And when disaster strikes, Roizman leans on his network of trucking firms and logistics experience to set up convoys to stricken areas.
In Texas, Olam Chesed partnered with the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston to distribute such things as bottled water and cleaning supplies.
The federation “ran a distribution out of the JCC campus,” said Roizman. “Once that was over, it was spread throughout Houston to the areas most affected. … The various synagogues ran their own distributions, so we drop-shipped to them pallets of merchandise. Hertz Furniture generously made their warehouse available; we took a 26-foot box truck to fill individual locations’ orders. We also helped a church in a badly affected and poor community.”
He estimated Olam Chesed’s contribution to relief efforts last month to be in the neighborhood of “hundreds of thousands” of dollars.
Now, Roizman, who runs the organization along with his wife, Meechal, wants to see other cities adopt the Olam Chesed model to help the day-to-day needs of those struggling to get by in the Jewish community.
Partnering with major corporations “is a resource which has not been tapped,” he explained. Other large charities have relationships with Fortune 500 companies. In the Jewish community, “it really needs to be developed.”
Roizman identified his biggest need as money. He relies on volunteers to manage the back-office functions and sort donated merchandise, but a staff could make things go a lot smoother.
“There’s such a wide range of items” that Olam Chesed deals in, “from car seats to toilet paper to diapers to recliners to irons to towels. … We have a 25,000-square-foot warehouse that is chock full of merchandise,” he said. “And really, there is no limit. We’re far from tapping the limit of the supplies. The only thing that’s holding us back is funding.”
He said his only expenses are on the operating side.
“For every dollar of operating expense, we’re able to distribute at least $10 of merchandise,” said Roizman, who encourages financial donations at goodfortheneedy.org/donate. “We can leverage every dollar by many multiples. The more we grow, the more that leverage will grow, because we’ll be able to negotiate better trucking rates, to take advantage of economies of scale.”