Watching the frantic scenes of Ukrainian civilians — mostly women, children and the elderly — fleeing the invading Russian military for more than a week, the Atlanta Jewish community, as did many Americans across the nation, felt the pull on their heartstrings.
So, when friends, colleagues and members of the National Council of Jewish Women’s Atlanta chapter received a late-night email on March 6 from co-president Sherry Frank, asking for emergency supplies for Ukrainian refugees by the next morning, they enlisted in the cause.
One member drove to Costco and bought $100-worth of medical supplies. Others brought bags and boxes of thermal underwear, bedding, coats and boots to the NCJW office in Sandy Springs. Still others had gone grocery shopping for diapers, triple antibiotic ointments and disposable plates.
Frank said she would be in the office by 10 a.m. on March 7, with NCJW board member Renee Videlefsky — who had started this ball rolling with a call to Frank — due shortly thereafter, to pick up the supplies.
One by one, people drove up and emptied their cars of supplies for Ukrainian refugees fleeing the war, mostly to Poland and other neighboring countries. The United Nations is predicting a massive humanitarian crisis, with at least four million Ukrainian civilians projected to become refugees.
“I spent all last night emailing people,” Frank said of her efforts on Sunday night, as she tried to reach as many as possible to bring in much-needed clothes and other supplies the next day. Frank was spurred into action by Videlefsky, a Congregation Or Hadash board member, who most recently had helped her congregation “adopt” a family of Afghan refugees. Both Frank and Videlefsky have a long history of working with immigrants and refugees, having assisted Russian immigrants with adjusting to their new lives in the U.S. decades ago.
One of those immigrants, Alex Khodorkovsky, is now Frank’s contact for shipping supplies to Ukrainian refugees. “He is the son of the family that I have worked with since they came to Atlanta from Russia,” said Frank. “He came to Atlanta with his parents around 30 years ago. He is an entrepreneur and a responsible young adult. He is committed to helping the folks in Ukraine. Jeanney Kutner, Lois Frank and I have been very close to this family.”
According to Frank, the NCJW has worked with immigrants for more than 100 years. “At the turn of the [20th] century, we met Jews at Ellis Island, and also after World War II,” said Frank. In the 1970s, the local chapter worked with Jewish Family & Career Services of Atlanta to help resettle new Russian arrivals.
As volunteers brought more carloads of supplies to the NCJW office, Frank and volunteer Linda Davidson carried coats, clothes, and boxes of mouthwash, shampoo and other toiletries from a back office where they had been consigned for a few months to the front office. These were surplus supplies intended for care packages for recently arrived Afghan refugees. Now they were being used to assist a new set of refugees.
Referring to the massive contributions being collected, Frank told the AJT, “This just tells you how much people want to do more than just write checks.”
Local refugee assistance efforts weren’t limited to just individuals. On March 9, the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation announced that it would grant $250,000 to UNICEF to assist with immediate relief.
“I am pained by the human suffering that we’re seeing in Ukraine,” said Foundation Chairman Arthur Blank. “In this moment of crisis, we must do what’s right and support our brothers and sisters who have been forced to flee their homes or who are trapped in an escalating conflict. Our hearts go out to the Ukrainian people who are in a desperate situation to save their homes, their families and their lives. We encourage others to join us, so that together we can all play a part in providing much needed humanitarian aid.”
UNICEF is a nonprofit organization committed to improving the lives of children around the world.
In 2019, the Blank Family Foundation made a multi-million-dollar grant to CARE USA, which included support of its Humanitarian Surge Fund. That fund allows CARE to respond to needs as and where they arise.