I picked up my son Yaron at 8 a.m. — for once, I didn’t sleep through my alarm — and we headed to Yonkers to sort supplies for Ukraine.
His 10-year-old son, Kobe, had wanted to come, but between my grandson’s fondness for sleep and my son’s uncertainty about whether the kid had to be registered individually, we left him home, snoring peacefully.
(As a side note, Kobe and his fourth grade Schechter friends are very concerned about what is happening in Europe and are preparing to publish a book of jokes with proceeds going to Ukraine relief efforts.)
I was recruited through an email sent by New York’s UJA Federation, asking that volunteers “join UJA and our nonprofit partner Afya Foundation to mobilize for Ukraine at this crucial moment when millions of refugees are fleeing for their safety.” Our job would be sorting and packing medical supplies and hygiene products in Afya’s warehouse before they’re sent directly to Ukraine.
In its own words, Afya, which means “good health” in Swahili, seeks to spread its namesake by “providing medical supplies, consumables, sustainable equipment, and community outreach supplies to international health clinics.” Its primary goal: to bring good health to those who need it most.
The day’s packing event in Yonkers required 180 volunteers. According to Afya’s volunteer coordinator and enthusiastic fellow packer Mary Grace Pagaduan, all slots filled up within 24 hours. Some of my fellow volunteers, some of them wearing kippot, had volunteered with Afya previously.
Some of us were sorters, some counters, some baggers and labelers. Before us were long tables loaded with medical and hygiene products of all kinds. My son, whose eyesight is appreciably better than mine, chose to sort through the mounds of supplies, discarding those whose expiration dates were prior to July 2023. (Those of us who never check our expiration dates thought that was a bit excessive. Still, we must factor in delays in delivery and Afya’s reputation, which rests on the provision of usable materials.)
I invented my own job, choosing to count, bag, and label tubs of pre-sorted goods. (So there, assembly-line enthusiasts.) The work during our two-hour shift was steady — endless, actually — but the room was relatively quiet, except for the sounds of packing and sorting. People were there to work, exchange words like “pass me the labels, please,” and do something for the beleaguered people of Ukraine.
And that, actually, was the motivating factor for us all. A desire to help, and a tangible way to do it. I had made an effort to find volunteer work in Romania, where there is a displaced children’s home, originally located in Odessa. (I wrote about that orphanage, the Tikva Children’s Home, in a March 18 story in this paper called “A modern exodus.”) My other son had also given consideration to flying over to help, but in truth, what can we do? Perhaps we should listen to the experts, who tell us that the best way to help is by providing financial and material support to the countless thousands of people fleeing home with nothing but the clothing on their backs. So we were able to help without flying overseas, without fanfare — and then we left.
Not to rest, God forbid. There was Pesach shopping to do….
Other take-aways from the day:
l. Don’t worry about parking. My son was distracted by things like the absence of parking spaces. If it’s Sunday and you’re doing volunteer work in an area mostly full of light industry, as we were in Yonkers, just park as close as you can to the site. And if you can’t find the right office, follow the voices, even if that means climbing stairs (which it did).
2. Have your coffee before you leave in the morning. We got there early and rode around seeking something hot and caffeinated. We found one nondescript deli, and my son, surprising me with his sophistication, said he wouldn’t drink their coffee because “deli coffee tastes like mud.”
To learn more or volunteer, go to afyafoundation.org.
Lois Goldrich of Fair Lawn is, among other things, an editor emerita of the Jewish Standard.