Rabbi Merrill Shapiro

Merrill's Photos

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Meet Rabbi Merrill Shapiro from Palm Coast, Florida

Merrill Shapiro is a Rabbi at the Temple Beth Shalom in Palm Coast, Florida. He is part of the Flagler County Florida Cold Weather Shelter Coalition where volunteers provide emergency cold weather shelter for the homeless when temperatures fall below 40 degrees. Rabbi Shapiro requested funds to purchase a computer, printer, monitor, and high speed internet service to help coordinate the volunteers, the local community, government and law enforcement, as well as media outlets to assist in reaching the homeless encamped in woods several miles from the shelter location. We were surprised to learn that in this part of Florida, temperatures can go below freezing at night.

The shelter is headed by Carla Traister, and the catalyst for this coalition, according to the Rabbi, has been the Pastor of the First United Methodist Church of Bunnell, Reverend Elizabeth "Beth" Gardner. Rabbi Shapiro credits both women with being the real heroes as they dedicate their lives to helping the homeless.

Our new hero has a varied and extensive resume. Rabbi Shapiro studied electrical engineering in New York State, as well as Hebrew language in Ohio. He then traveled to Jerusalem, Israel for Rabbinic Studies and Ordination at Kollel Harav Rosenstock while also teaching electronics and amateur radio at Merkaz Noar Tikvatenu. He has worked as a Prison Chaplain and also taught Theology, both in Ohio and was the Director of Education at Temple Israel in Orlando. More recently, he was a Congregational Rabbi in Richmond, Virginia and now at Temple Beth Shalom in Palm Coast.

“I tend to work 7 days a week meeting the pastoral, spiritual, educational and counseling needs of some 250 individuals,” he wrote in his application. “As the only Rabbi in the county, I am increasingly called upon to represent the Jewish community of Flagler County in the wider civic community.” Regarding the work being done with the Cold Weather Coalition, Rabbi Shapiro says, “It is my belief that each and every human being deserves a helping hand, and deserves to know that there is some support system to which they can turn at times of need.”

Diary Starts Here

April 9, 2012

We received an update from Carla...

"We have had a mild winter and that has been good for our folks at the church/shelter in Bunnell. We are now raising funds to rent a building as a more permanent drop-in location and, hopefully, a building large enough to house the emergency shelter for homeless families and individuals.

Since we still have some grant funds available to us, we are requesting a projector and remote clicker for presentations. Presently, when we are asked to speak we have to borrow a projector from a church and hope that there’s no conflict for its use and that it is working properly. We hook it up to the original computer that was granted through your program. There is such competition for funds with this economy and it is good that we have an effective method to let everyone know who we are, what we have done, and where we want to go with the shelter. We have found it exasperating when we are scheduled to speak and are not able to use the visual presentation with it. Take care and thank you. Carla Traister"

February 3, 2012
We received an update from Carla who says their center continues to serve the homeless of Flagler and Volusia Counties and has been awarded United Way's and Bright House Volunteer Awards for two years - first as Senior Volunteer of the Year in 2010 and the church as Group Volunteer of the Year of 2011. Carla was also presented with the President's Point of Light Award. Congratulations to all the volunteers for being recognized and for continuing to help those in need.

April 17, 2009
We received an update from Carla who said they had another surprising cold spell the Tuesday before Easter and had to open when the temps dropped to 36 in Bunnell (yes, this is Florida). As of today, the Flagler County Cold-Weather Shelter has been opened 30 days, 3 times more than Volusia County’s shelters were open last year. They have had well over 300 guests pass over their threshold, and have served over 650 meals. 114 volunteers physically helped at the shelter or did the mountains of laundry. Countless more donated supplies, food and money to keep the shelter operating. The new computer has been busy filling a variety of needs, from the shelter guests applying for jobs and services to the keeping of records and on-line communications. Carla provided a new pair of glasses to a homeless man by the name of James ("Jimbo") Center, who has been using two pairs of glasses, one pair over another, in order to see. The lenses on the old ones are so scratched, it looks foggy. He is very excited. Carla said, "You don't know how this warms my heart. Jimbo is so worth this!"

February 3, 2009
Carla went shopping last week at Best Buy and they have their new computer, printer, router, and software. "Our guests are as excited as we are," she said in an email. "Our library is opened Monday, Wednesday and Friday and they have 3 computers for the entire town to use. Bunnell is a small community, our unemployment rate in Flagler County is 11.6% - the largest in the state, and Bunnell is by far greater as it is the most economically depressed with the highest percent of folks on welfare and free and reduced lunch student population. Fifty or more folks line up on the days the library opens to use the computers so it is nearly impossible to get on. They have a half-hour limit and our guys say that by the time they figure out how to use it and get to the address they want, the 30 minutes is over. They are looking forward to getting onto an on-line jobs site, applying for jobs, emailing family, completing forms and applications, writing resumes - just feeling that they are connected to the world."

Carla also says that last week, Halifax Urban Ministries in Daytona Beach sent 20 of their folks up to her shelter because they were absolutely full. Consequently, they had 30 or more for three nights, and were scrambling to make it all work. And it did. "They had three relatively peaceful nights with tummies full, warm beds in a warm room, welcoming, nonjudgmental people, lots of coffee and snacks, and no fear."

January 28, 2009
What a surprise to learn that Rabbi Shapiro has visited my hometown of London, Ontario! He used to go camping in the area and even attended the Shakespeare Festival in Stratford.

January 16, 2009
I called the church today to surprise Rabbi Shapiro with the news of his grant. Carla and Reverend Gardner were both there, in fact they helped get him there for my call. They told him he was needed for a photo but he didn't know I would be calling. At least that's what we all thought. But it turns out that a local morning radio show got our press release yesterday and were already talking about it! We were all hoping he wasn't listening to the radio on the way, and he wasn't. There was so much joy in the room when I spoke to our new hero on the speaker phone. He was so gracious and made sure I knew that it was the two women, Carla and "Beth" who made this coalition happen. Carla will be the one who orders the equipment, hopefully soon since it's very cold there this week. I checked on the internet and it will be in the low 30's tonight.

click the image to see a slideshow

Everyone gathered at the church for my phone call and besides Rabbi Shapiro, Carla, and Beth, were three members of the Rabbi's congregation and the church secretary, Gwen. I joked with (I hope it's okay to call him by his first name) Merrill about his needing to learn math because he only requested $1,000 for a computer, monitor, printer and one year of internet service at $80 per month so I suggested we make it $2,000 to cover everything. I had also read that the coalition gives warm clothing to the homeless so I included another $1,000 to help out. So the grant is now $3,000 and I told everyone they can start shopping! What a great way to start my day.

2nd Update: Later in the day I spoke to Gwen, the church secretary, who told me more about the good work being done there for the homeless. The church does not have a permanent shelter but during the winter, they use their Fellowship Hall which has a kitchen and is filled with cots provided by the Red Cross. They can keep the cots until hurricane season starts in June. Congregation members from other churches and from the synagogue bring food and Gwen said that the volunteers even do laundry for the homeless, taking it back to their own homes to wash.

01/16/09: Jenny wrote... "Rabbi Shapiro, our country may be facing more homeless than ever so I thank you for your service to them and your community."

01/16/09: Damon wrote... "Rabbi, what a valuable service you are providing for the homeless. We hope that other communities follow your lead."

01/16/09: Terri wrote... " Bless you Rabbi Shapiro, you truly have a loving spirit. More people should adopt your philosophy! My best to all of you."

01/17/09: Kathy Judd wrote... "Why am I not surprised to see this mitzvah? The people of Flagler County are better off because you are there!"
kathy judd

01/17/09: Rev. Beth Gardner wrote... "Rabbi Shapiro-Not only are you Jenny's Hero… you are our hero as well! On behalf of the Flagler County Cold-Weather Shelter Coalition and those we serve, thank you!"

06/27/11: Kip Durocher wrote... "Keep up the good work."