Reaching out to the homeless

by | May 27, 2021 | Other News

The pandemic has presented unfathomable difficulties for Norfolk’s homeless population. With every bed in local shelters full, street homeless-ness has roughly doubled, according to Sarah Paige Fuller, director of Norfolk’s Community Services Board.

This thought hit Gabi and Richard Rosenblum especially hard when in December they became aware of a group of people living in tents that had been pitched on Norfolk’s 19th Street across from the UP Center and the Salvation Army. The couple immediately swung into action with Gabi cooking meals that she and Richard started delivering to the people at the site every Sunday.
The Rosenblums learned that many of the residents went to work each day, but for most of them, their minimum wage salaries didn’t provide enough to afford housing. As time passed, Gabi started an Amazon Wish List for her new friends. She was overwhelmed by the outpour-ing of support from donors who sent Amazon items that included everything from toiletries and socks to tents and tarps and folding chairs.

Inspired by the Rosenblums, in January, Jill and Brian Wainger and their daughters began delivering home-made meals on Saturdays to the 19th Street folks living at the tent city. Like the Rosenblums, the Wainger clan also deliver to the homeless in Virginia Beach before coming to Norfolk to drop off their food and supplies. With 19 home-less in Norfolk plus those at Virginia Beach, the Rosnblum and Wainger teams deliver about 30 meals on Saturday and 30 on Sunday.

Following Jill Wainger’s and Gabi Rosenblum’s Face Book posts and listening to the exciting stories the Wainger girls were sharing about their food project, people started to wonder if there might be something Beth El congregants could do to help those in need in Norfolk. On May 3, Beth El volunteers started delivering hot meals prepared and donated by Mercy Chefs to the 19th Street residents. Mercy Chefs provides dinners Monday through Thursday and Beth El helpers meet the driver to distribute the hot dinners to the appreciative recipients.

Soon after this project began, Beth El volunteers learned that on May 1, the city of Norfolk opened a temporary shelter at the Greyhound Bus Station on Monticello Avenue. Eighty tents are safely situ-ated in the bus station parking lot with breakfast and dinner being served by a team from First Presbyterian Church’s Urban Renewal volunteers. Those seeking shelter may be in their tents 6:00 pm until 7:30 am, and may stay inside the Greyhound Station during the day if they have nowhere to go. It is anticipated, but not known for certain, that the city will at some point close down the 19th Street tent site and will try to relocate everyone from there to the Greyhound site which has 24/7 security and bathroom and shower facilities for all. Fuller says that the Greyhound site is a temporary shelter with the hope that a permanent placement will occur in Norfolk by October.

To lend support to those running the Greyhound shelter, Beth El members created a food pantry in the synagogue’s lobby. On Monday, June 14, as part of the Beth El Feeds Tidewater project, the synagogue, along with area churches, will launch a drive collecting non-perishable food items and toiletries. Donors may drop off boxes Monday–Thursday that week, 10 am–3 pm at Beth El at the office entrance, 422 Shirley Avenue, Norfolk. If help is needed to unload a car, call the office at 625-7821. Please put the donor’s names on boxes.

Suggested items for boxes include athletic style socks, men’s and women’s underwear, t-shirts, hats, wash cloths, shower gel, soap, deodorant, razors, tooth paste, tooth brushes, wipes, rain ponchos, drawstring bags or backpacks, face masks, lip balm, hand sanitizer, sun block, shaving cream, band-aids, or feminine hygiene products, etc. Non-perishable food might include water, juice boxes, individual sized items such as applesauce or fruit cups, cereal or Other ways to support the project include helping sort the items collected or helping deliver the items to the shelter. An Amazon Wish List for folks who would like to donate on-line is also available. To volunteer or get information about the wish list, email pattiwainger@

The shelter is also in dire need of financial support for feeding its residents; therefore, checks made out to Beth El to help in this way, are welcomed. Please note on the check that this is for the homeless shelter. Checks may be mailed to Congregation Beth El, 422 Shirley Avenue, Norfolk, Virginia 23517. In addition, if anyone wants to sign up to volunteer at the Greyhound shelter, log in to