Sign up for our Daily Email newsletter to stay up to date with the latest local news across Philadelphia.
By Barbara Goldberg
In a corner of a cavernous warehouse, a woman in a yellow Tweety Bird sweatshirt separated catheters from blood-stopping gauzes. Another volunteer sealed a box of energy bars and gloves, while a ponytailed man sorted through batteries and diapers.
“I am a Ukrainian – every Ukrainian should do something,” said Roman Pylypiv, 27, who had driven from his home in Philadelphia to the New Jersey warehouse to help prepare donations for Ukrainians.
“There are men my age fighting there,” said Pylypiv, who moved to the United States eight years ago from the western Ukrainian town of Ivano-Frankivsk. where his family lives. “It’s nothing like what they do.”
Hundreds of volunteers descended on the warehouse run by Meest-America Inc, a shipping company specializing in deliveries to Eastern Europe, to sort and pack medical supplies, clothing, military equipment and equipment. other goods destined for Ukraine.
Its warehouse spans 92,000 square feet — bigger than an American football field — just 14 miles from Newark Liberty International Airport.
Inside are 35 long rows of orange-painted racks, each three shelves high and overflowing with bundles of toys, household items and other goods – typical shipments that have been put on hold since the invasion. of Ukraine by Russia.
Over the past two weeks, nearly all of Meest-America’s work has shifted to organizing humanitarian aid deliveries donated by churches, charities and individuals, operations director Natalia Brandafi said in an interview.
The company, whose name means bridge in Ukrainian, charges a reduced rate of 30% for the humanitarian goods it manages, funded by monetary donations, she said. He was able to obtain export permits for sensitive items such as body armor and helmets.
In the past week alone, the Meest, New Jersey warehouse shipped more than 260,000 pounds (120,000 kg) of humanitarian aid, almost all first aid kits, medical supplies and food non-perishable, Brandafi said.
The demand for medical supplies and military equipment replaced an earlier call for warm clothes and baby items.
More than 2 million Ukrainians fled the country, many with only what they had on their backs. Almost all of them are women and children, as the men have been asked to stay and fight, and the government has provided them with weapons to strengthen the defense of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
For donation requests, Meest consults with the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington, the Ukrainian Consulate in New York and the delivery company’s headquarters in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, said Brandafi.
In a corner of the warehouse, Valentyna Goloborodko, a native of Odessa and an intern at Montefiore Medical Center in New York, rolled up the sleeves of her Tweety Bird sweatshirt on her third day of volunteering.
She separated donated “medical goods” from more urgent “tactical drugs”, such as haemostatic gauze from the first aid kit to bandage a wound and stop bleeding.
“These are simple things that could save someone’s life on the battlefield,” Goloborodko said.