Tale Of A Toothbrush


The woman who called my office a few weeks ago wouldn’t tell me her name. “That’s not important,” she said. “I just wanted to thank you for the toothbrush.” Sensing my confusion, she explained that she lost her home during Hurricane Sandy (“Sandy Aid For Houses Of Worship Stalled,” Nov. 1). Within a matter of hours, she had the clothes on her back, a small suitcase of valuables, and that was pretty much it. When she got to a shelter, she got warm clothing, a cot to sleep on, and a small bag with essentials like toiletries.

The bag had a JCC logo on it. “That’s how I found you,” she added. “I’m OK now, more or less. It was pretty terrible for a long time but I’m better off than most. But I really wanted to thank you for the toothbrush.”

And then I understood what she was talking about. In the hours following the storm, The JCC in Manhattan, which is located on the Upper West Side and was virtually unscathed by the hurricane, became a central location for thousands of New Yorkers who came to donate food, clothing, diapers, strollers and toys for those hardest hit. Hundreds of cars lined up spontaneously to transport the donated goods to shelters throughout lower Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island. At one point in those chaotic moments, a member rushed in, took a look at the piles and piles of bags being organized by our teens and other volunteers and ran out of the building. She returned several moments later with boxes of toothbrushes. “My dad was a dentist. People have to brush their teeth. I bought every toothbrush the drugstore had in stock.” And she left as quickly as she had arrived. I had forgotten it until that moment.

“You see,” the caller continued, “my dad was a dentist. Somehow, amidst everything that I had lost, I became fixated on the fact that I had left my toothbrush in the apartment. You can’t imagine how grateful I was when I saw that toothbrush. So I needed to say thank you.”

Two women, separated by so much. One with everything she needed and the other without much at all. Two women joined together by their ability to express gratitude, one for being able to help, the other for having been helped. Two women with fathers who just happened to be dentists.

You never really know what’s going to make a difference. And no one, least of all the woman who bought the toothbrushes, needed or expected anyone’s thanks. But when it comes, it reminds all of us how important it is to do what we can, whatever we can, when people need our help. Because sometimes it’s as simple as being the person your father taught you to be. Sometimes it’s as simple as a toothbrush.

Executive Director, The JCC In Manhattan