‘Our chance to make a difference’: Ozone Park civic groups organize massive relief effort for Ukrainian refugees

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, in Odessa
People who were evacuated from Nikolaev amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine arrive in Odessa, Ukraine, March 15, 2022. (REUTERS/Igor Tkachenko)

As the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine deepens, with more than 3 million refugees fleeing the worn-torn nation since Russia invaded three weeks ago, Sam Esposito, the president of the Ozone Park Residents Block Association, had seen enough.

Esposito began organizing with other southern Queens civic associations and Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato to hold the largest Ukrainian relief effort the city has seen to date, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, March 19, at The Living Word Christian Fellowship Church, located at 132-05 Cross Bay Blvd. in Ozone Park.

“One of our Ukrainian residents asked for us to help because a local Ukrainian church rebuffed his efforts to organize a relief event. They would only accept cash,” Esposito told QNS. “He knew that if anyone could do something to help, it was us. I personally went to the church and I was really disappointed that they wanted nothing to do with the event.”

The Ozone Park Residents Block Association has mobilized its own army of 75 to 100 volunteers during the last two years to distribute food every Saturday during the COVID-19 pandemic. The volunteers are Bengali, Black, Chinese, Guyanese, Hispanic, white, born-again, Catholic, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, old and young, gay and straight, Esposito explained.

“Without these volunteers, we couldn’t do these efforts, they give back so much to our community,” he said. “We’re asking everyone to come out this Saturday. It’s going to be our biggest event yet. We expect it to be a citywide effort.”

Esposito is asking for all concerned people to donate necessities for the refugees to alleviate the worst suffering in Europe since World War II. The Ukrainian Embassy provided him with a list of medical supplies that are needed including bandages, antiseptic wipes, Ibuprofen, tourniquets, syringes, antibiotics, rubber gloves and emergency blankets. They will also collect diapers, feminine hygiene products, toothpaste and toothbrushes, sheets and towels, soap, baby formula, canned food, socks, pet food and children’s toys.

Residents of the Rockaways, Broad Channel, Ozone Park and Howard Beach have been dropping off supplies at either Living World Christian Fellowship or Pheffer Amato’s district office all week.

“This is our chance to make a difference and help everyone in need,” Esposito said. “It breaks my heart to see what these people are going through. You know, we face bullies every day in our lives and here you see these people stand up to the bullies in Russia. It’s truly moving and we need to do what we can to help.”

He has lined up a trucking company that will take all of the donated items to a warehouse. A packing company will then package them for shipping. Solent Freight Services, a company with ties to the community, will ensure the donations will be properly delivered to those in need overseas, all donated for free.

“The atrocities happening in Ukraine are sickening, and this is just one way that we can let the people of Ukraine, and their families here in Queens know that we stand in solidarity with them, we support them and we are ready to help them any way we can,” Pheffer Amato said. “This community has always stepped up to the plate to help those in need, just like we have countless times before and like we always do.”

In addition to Esposito’s organization, The Ozone Park Howard Beach Woodhaven Lions Club, Kiwanis International of Woodhaven and Ozone Park, the Ozone Park Block Association, the Glendale Civic Association and other community groups are also helping to organize the relief effort.

“All of the amazing civic groups that got involved deserve a huge amount of praise,” Pheffer Amato said. “And through these great partnerships and teamwork, we can make a difference and help the people of Ukraine get much-needed supplies. I will be happy to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with all of them as we load the truck.”

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