From shipping to humanitarian aid: NJ company pivots to help Ukraine war effort
A Woodbridge-based company has specialized in shipping freight to Ukraine for several decades. But when Russia invaded the country, the entire company transformed overnight into a humanitarian aid operation running 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The warehouse of Meest-America in the Port Reading section of Woodbridge is almost like a time capsule. On one end, there are rows and rows of packages bound for Ukraine and Eastern Europe before the war started. They continue items like books, gifts and household items. But on the other end is endless boxes of supplies arriving from across the United States - food, medical supplies and the like, bound for Ukraine and the refugees fleeing the country during the Russian invasion. The items are all being sorted and packaged by Meest employees and volunteers.
“We are in the center of the outpouring of support,” says Meest-America COO Natalia Brandafi.
When the Russian Invasion became, the 33-year-old company pivoted overnight from delivering commercial freight to aiding the war effort. It was a massive, daunting and emotional task. It was also a big financial lift for the company.
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Meest employees work long hours of free overtime alongside volunteers to sort and pack the supplies that are bound for flights out of Newark Liberty International Airport. Volunteers like Marta Savchuk. She is a Rutgers grad student born in Ukraine. She lives in Warren Township now and has midterms this week. But she says that she had to come volunteer.
“I have to help out here as much as I can because I can’t be there with them – so just doing my part,” she says.
On Monday, one employee was working when she learned that her nephew had been killed.
There are piles of letters and children’s drawings that are found among the donated supplies.
Meest-America itself faces a dilemma. The company often foots the bill for the shipments and is operating at a loss rather than ask donors for money. A nonprofit group Razom Emergency Response was set up to help cover the shipping costs.
“We still need a lot more money,” Brandafi says.
But she says that they will worry about the money later. There are still trucks to load and planes to fill and people in Ukraine to help.