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A Humanitarian Vacation Pulls The Community Together BySusan Hoffman

Last year Jillian Savoy with her parents, Joe and Jacque, who are both retired, booked their upcoming river cruise vacation where they would set sail the last week of March for a weeklong voyage along the Danube. The Newport Beach residents couldn’t have known at the time that a stopover at Dracula’s Castle in Romania would evolve into a humanitarian effort. The carefully calculated detour would now lead them to a refugee shelter near Bucharest, Romania where they would drop off donated items brought from their community in America.

Savoy, a Southern California native is currently employed as a full time licensed vocational nurse providing home care for a pediatric patient while also attending school in pursuit of her (RN) Registered Nurse degree.

“After one of my classmates told me about the Romanian shelter, I thought it was a great idea to take donation items to Ukrainian refugees,” said Savoy. “Since we had one empty checked bag that my dad wasn’t using I thought we could take stuff for people there.”

Concerned that they wouldn’t have enough items to fill the one piece of luggage, Savoy posted on a request of priority list donation items consisting of for example, flip-flops, clothes and hygiene products. Within 24 hours, there were close to 250 offers of donations from the community. As a result, Savoy’s “project suitcase” added three more empty bags to be checked but at the rate the donations were pouring in, there would be an overflow making it impossible to carry everything.

She acknowledged that although it’s a good problem to have, receiving so many donation items posed the question….now how do we get it all to the people of Ukraine?

Savoy approached a writer friend for help, hoping she had resources to resolve the logistical issue of distributing the supplies. The contagious enthusiasm of the humanitarian effort became apparent when the friend put down her pen and took on the challenge.

The research paid off. It turns out that Meest-America, an International Freight company delivers packages and freight by air and sea from the United States to Eastern Europe. “Meest” is Ukrainian for bridge, however Meest, with mostly workers from Ukraine, has suspended the delivery of parcels by plane and by ship to Russia, Belarus, and by ship to Moldova. A message on their website states: We Stand With Ukraine and will continue to support our country and its people in this difficult time.

Among the 48 warehouses across America, there is a Southern California location in Glendale and as it turned out has partnered with a drop off location in Costa Mesa.

“We have shifted our business focus toward humanitarian aid said, West Coast manager Julia Stadik. “We’ve been in business 30 years and being the West Coast main carrier we will continue to keep doing it.”

With a steady flow of newly donated supplies coming into their Glendale warehouse daily, they have so far delivered 30 tons of humanitarian aid to Ukraine going to such charities as Ukrainian Cultural Center and Mission Of Mercy Ukraine.

“We are all coming together, with separate things and we share resources, share contact, do what we can,” said Stadnik. “My friend and I started SURF (Save Ukraine Refugee Fund) to focus on refugees getting out, so far we have found housing for 1000 people.”

Another partner is the Ukrainian-American human rights organization that was established to support the people of Ukraine in their pursuit of a democracy based on human and civil rights is RAZOM, which means, “together” in Ukrainian.

Among the connections Meest-America partnered with to help Orange County residents get donations to Glendale was Moscow Deli in Costa Mesa.

The Moscow Deli on Harbor Boulevard in Costa Mesa has been there 25 years and is owned by Yelena Kasimov and Yelena Kagen.

“We feel bad for the Ukrainian people,” said Kasimov. “We do not support Putin and we didn’t leave our country 25 years ago to come here to support Russia.”

Kasimov explained they are a small business with the sole purpose of serving people the kind of food they like within the culture they enjoy being part of. There is no political agenda.

“Everyone works together, the people [employees] are from both Russia and Ukraine,” said Kasimov. “There is no problems in the store, we are best of friends.”

Kasimov said that people have called asking if they are still open or have closed. They have also received calls and Facebook messages asking if they plan on changing the name of the store. “We don’t want to change the name,” said Kasimov.

This Wednesday, one day before the Savoy’s leave for their trip, they will deliver eleven donation boxes to Moscow Deli.

Whatever mixed feelings the Savoy’s had about taking the vacation when people were going through so much and suffering, they now believe the trip has relevance.

“We saw how the developments seemed so inhuman, people running for their lives,“ said Joe Savoy. “We have the opportunity to be somewhere to make an impact on somebody. It gives us a chance to do whatever we can.”

“It may be a drop in the bucket,” said Jillian Savoy, who promised to post a photo on Sunday upon her arrival at the refugee center to the now over 350 Next-door “Donation-Angels. “Everybody’s little dings end up making a dent in the world.”

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