On Thursday, March 10, Council Member James F. Gennaro, the Chazaq Organization, and Chaverim of Queens hosted a successful donation drive for Ukrainian refugees in Poland. Dozens of people came out to Chazaq’s Lev Aharon Community Food Pantry, a partnership with Met Council, in Kew Gardens Hills to donate items ranging from food to clothes to children’s toys. The drive is part of a borough-wide initiative spearheaded by Gennaro and Council Member Robert Holden.

Queens residents who attended the drive praised Gennaro for being a guiding light for the community. “We must give with our hearts,” said Jamaica Hills resident Anjali Das. “The best of our community comes out when we give together.” Das donated items together with her friend Bhagirathi Savage, who’d previously toured Ukraine. “It is the mind that divides us, and the heart that unites. Let’s together create oneness,” Savage expressed while I helped her empty her vehicle of donations.

Susan Cleary, a Kew Gardens Hills resident and candidate currently petitioning to be on the ballot for State Committee, explained, “I came out to support the Ukrainian refugees in the best way I know how. Of the eight drop-off sites, I chose my own neighborhood of Kew Gardens Hills because I take pride in my community.” We unloaded protein-rich items from Cleary’s car, including tuna and pink beans.

Scheduled for arrival in Poland by Thursday, March 17, the Associazione Culturale Italiana Di New York covered the cost of shipment to Rzeszow – a city in Poland located near the border of Ukraine. Adrian Kubicki, the Polish Consulate General in New York and the President of Rzeszow, Konrad Fijołek, helped to coordinate the final drop-off in Poland, ensuring donations will go directly to Ukrainian refugees.

“I was deeply moved when I saw the atrocities taking place in Ukraine, and I was compelled to help. It is an honor and a privilege to help organize this drive, which I hope will yield many useful donations for the people who have been displaced by this needless bloodshed,” said Council Member James F. Gennaro. “This is a large-scale, joint effort that could not happen without the help of our many community partners.”

On Sunday, March 13, Chaverim of Queens co-founder Avi Cyperstein and I loaded the items donated and transported them to the offices of Tony Di Piazza in Ridgewood. With the help of the Misaskim of Queens van, we completed the mission. There we met Council Member Holden, who said, “As the invasion of Ukraine touches the world, I’m proud that my fellow New Yorkers of many diverse cultures in Queens are once again eager to help. We have come together to show the world that we care about the people of Ukraine.”

Later in the day, I met Queens Delegation Co-Chair Council Member Linda Lee, who offered, “Having relatives who lived through the atrocities of the Korean War and were displaced as a result, watching the horror of history repeat itself is too close to bear. I am proud to partner with my Co-Chair Council Member Nantasha Williams to help deliver some measure of comfort and relief to the people of Ukraine amidst this crisis.”

Council Member Sandra Ung noted, “As someone who knows what it’s like to be forced to flee their homeland to escape the ravages of war, I feel the pain of the over one million Ukrainians who have been forced to flee to Poland to escape Russian aggression.”

Israel Peskowitz, Director of Governmental Affairs for Chazaq, coordinated much of the logistics with Natalia Kozikowska of Gennaro’s office. Kozikowska knows of the urgency and brought this event to fruition, as her parents once escaped to Poland.

“Over the course of the last fourteen years, I have been in Ukraine at least once a year and have spent weeks in Poland filming and producing documentaries in both regions,” explained Avi Cyperstein on his commitment to the aid effort. “I also know what it is like to run out of fear while under a barrage of rocket attacks. In the mid 2000s, I joined then-Assembly-Member Dov Hikind and my friend Yoni Hikind on a humanitarian mission to Gush Katif in support of those communities just a week before they were expelled from their homes by their own government. On Friday night we were taking a walk through the town when rockets began firing down upon us. I remember the feeling of looking up at what appeared to be fireworks in the sky to see a rocket falling right towards me. Everybody was running in different directions to get away from impending destruction. Some people were running towards me, while others ran past, but nobody was running in the same direction because there was no way to know where it would land. In one of the most frightening scenes I recall, the rocket landed a block from where I stood - and that was just one rocket. War is never the answer. Merciless killing of innocent people should never be accepted and must be condemned by everyone on every level. If you have a voice, you must speak up. We cannot allow the loss of even one innocent life. How can we remain silent?”

For Cyperstein and I, the day continued with another drop-off in Brooklyn to ensure that every item donated would make it those who need it most. The overwhelming support for humanitarian aid and relief for Ukrainian refugees is moving and should inspire us to do even more. While the war is being fought over there, everyone knows that the global community is affected. We must use everything in our power and all matters of influence we can for our global neighbors.

By Shabsie Saphirstein