Scott Israel: Making a Difference in the Community

Former Sheriff Scott Israel was born in the Bronx, NY in 1956 but grew up on Long Island, NY. His father, the most influential person in his life, was in the United States Marine Corps and was also a police officer for the NYPD for 21 years. Israel, wanting to follow in his father’s footsteps, attended Cortland State University in NY, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Political Science. After graduating, he then decided to leave the state at 21-years-old to pursue a career in law enforcement. The next chapter of his life began in South Florida and here he has stayed ever since.

Israel’s career first began with the Fort Lauderdale Police Department, where he worked as a road patrol officer and undercover in the narcotics division. He was promoted to captain and retired as the Community Policing Special Operations/SWAT Commander. He then advanced yet again to serve as the City of North Bay Village Police Chief. At the same time, he was a high school football coach—he’s a proud past recipient of the “Brian Piccolo Coach of the Year Award” for his life’s work in Broward County youth athletics.

After 30 years in law enforcement, Scott Israel was elected Broward Sheriff in 2012. As the sheriff, he successfully implemented new policies and approaches to public safety that sharply reduced violent crime and burglary rates, worked to combat gun violence, and even diversified the agency at all levels to better reflect the community. His innovative initiatives also helped keep children in school and out of jail. In 2014, the Broward Sheriff ’s Office (BSO) won the prestigious Civil Rights Award from the International Association of Chiefs of Police for the homeless outreach program, which helps direct the homeless population to services they need.

That wasn’t the only accolade that Israel picked up. In 2013, he was honored as “Man of the Year” by the Shomrim Society and “Humanitarian of the Year” by the Jewish Federation of Broward County in 2015.

Israel’s humanitarian award was well-deserved as his desire to help people in need doesn’t end with just his career—he has also dedicated his free time to doing what he can for the community. Around 2013, he began to host grocery distribution projects in partnership with Wayne Barton, a former Boca Raton police officer. The two had met in the late 80’s while playing football games together—Israel was a quarterback representing Broward County and Barton was a defensive lineman for Palm Beach County. Years later, Israel bumped into him at New Hope Baptist Church in Fort Lauderdale, where Barton was distributing groceries to those in need. He asked to be a part of his inspiring initiative and since then, the two—along with other organizations’ help—have successfully distributed over 4 million pounds of food to the community.

“It’s set up like an outdoor Publix…We go to a parking lot at a church or a mall and people come up and load up their grocery carts. People [have cried] because they were so happy. They [have] prayed for us and with us too. It’s just a remarkable program,” Israel explained.

The grocery distribution projects take place in the parking lots of churches, malls, or other establishments and they work like an outdoor market. About five or six trucks filled with food are unloaded by volunteers onto tables. People then form a line and when it’s their turn, they may walk up to the tables where the food has been laid out and can pick from what-ever they may need; the food items are rich in variety and portion size, with poultry, meat, fresh vegetables, and other necessities available. The location of each distribution is announced through social media, flyers, and word-of-mouth. The distributions have taken place all across Broward County in cities like Lauderhill, Deerfield Beach, Fort Lauderdale, and others. Each event draws thousands of people; one that was hosted in early May in Lauderhill drew over 2,000 people alone.

“I was taught by my parents that it’s better to give than receive and it’s so true. There are kids that go to school in Broward County undernourished. How are you going to learn, pay attention, play sports, if you’re not being fed properly? To be a part of programs that give people food, it’s incredible.”

Israel and Barton’s distribution projects have continued throughout the coronavirus pandemic—now with unemployment soaring, people need all the extra assistance they can get. The two have partnered with other companies and individuals to make these distributions possible and even more widespread. Wayne Barton’s Boca Raton-located Wayne Barton Study Center is the main host of the event, along with Good News of Christ Ministries. Volunteers are recruited by Ray Rapaglia, founder and executive director of the James Club Recovery Center in Fort Lauderdale. Men and women from his recovery center volunteer their time to aid in distributing the food. Another huge contributor is Delta Lodge #519 Free and Accepted Masons, who also participated by volunteering to hand out and set up the bags of food.

However, the coronavirus has posed some challenges to the distribution projects; people can no longer walk up to the tables to pick out their food due to safety concerns. To maintain social distancing and keep everyone safe, Israel and numerous other volunteers wear masks and gloves as they place bags of food into the trunks of peoples’ cars in a drive-thru fashion. Each bag contains about 50-60 pounds of food, allowing those in need to have plenty to feed themselves and their families. McDonalds even joined to help the cause—on Saturdays in March, April, and May of this year, they would donate about 300 bags of their hot breakfast meals to the distribution project. Volunteers would then hand out the bags of breakfast to each person in every vehicle that drove up to the location.

“There was a mom who drove up with her two daughters. One of the daughters was about 12 and the other about 7. [After we handed them their food], they drove off and were out of the line. The mom then beeped her horn at me. I thought she just wanted to say goodbye, but when she rolled down the back window, her daughter said, ‘Thank you for feeding my mommy.’ That was just heartbreaking,” Israel shared.

Israel’s good-hearted nature runs in the family and he has been sure to pass it down to his own. He and his wife Susan are the proud parents of triplets Brett, Blake, and Blair. His 23-year-old daughter, Blair, actually created her own charity while she was in high school after being inspired by a homeless man’s story. The man expressed to Blair that he was unable to get a job due to him not having any presentable clothes for interviews. “Blair told me that the man told her, ‘Would you hire me lookin’ like this?’ And he was referring to his clothing…She was all teary-eyed [after speaking with him] because he was so intelligent and had all of these life experiences, but wasn’t able to get a job,” Israel explained. Blair then decided to create “The Blair Share Project,” where she would collect men’s business attire and bring them to the homeless assistance center, where they would be distributed to men to wear to job interviews.

Besides just his family, Israel encourages anyone he can to help out and lend a hand to someone in need. He says it’s not just about money, everyone has something they can do to give back: “Everybody can help. If you can help financially, that’s awesome, but maybe you have a skill you can teach someone else. My advice to adults especially is, ‘You and I spell love, L-O-V-E, but kids spell love, T-I-M-E.’ So if you have time and you can mentor a young person or coach a team—if there’s something you can do, consider volunteering your time and helping a youngster out. If you want to help, there’s so many ways to do it and it really is so needed.”

By Naomi Smith