The images on television in recent weeks of Ukrainian families being displaced from their homes, fleeing their country with next to nothing and being killed prompted Zac Ponsky and his brother, Dr. Lee Ponsky, to spring into action.

Zac Ponsky, founder and president of Medworks, and Lee Ponsky, founder of MedWish International – two Cleveland-area humanitarian organizations – braved the cold last weekend to collect supplies, money and more from local people wanting to help their counterparts overseas.

“It really is a show and a testament to the Northeast Ohio community to come together at a time like this, when nobody knows what we could possibly do being all the way across the globe in a situation like this,” Zac Ponsky told the Cleveland Jewish News March 13 as he watched vehicle after vehicle filled with medical necessities, toys, hygiene products and many other basic supplies get dropped off during the donation drive. “And this gives our neighbors an ability to come together, build camaraderie and do just a little bit to help the world in a crazy situation.”

For five hours March 12 and March 13, streams of people steadily came to the University Hospitals Customer Service Center on Harvard Road in Highland Hills to donate supplies to the residents of Ukraine, who are enduring a Russian invasion that started Feb. 24. While Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has implored the world to send his country weapons, a dire need for everyday living supplies has gripped the country.

More than 100 volunteers worked donation drive stations in windy, snowy, 20-degree temperatures.

“MedWish has been working for years with Ukrainian organizations,” said Ponsky, who lives in Hunting Valley and is a member of Park Synagogue in Cleveland Heights and Pepper Pike. “We’ve been delivering supplies to the Ukrainian region for many years, so being able to mobilize this operation and having the ties and connection to those people that are on the ground is something that this organization comes easy to because those connection points are in place and have continued to be in place. The shipments we sent out last week from MedWish have already actually arrived in Warsaw and are making their way to the border. We are expecting the stuff that’s coming in today is traveling to New Jersey, and most of it will be loaded on pallets and into air cargo. We’re expecting it to be in the region in a week-and-a-half.”

Ponsky was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from the community, he said.

“This really is an amazing opportunity for not just sending this specific stuff over to the region, but just as important, mobilizing our own Cleveland community to come together,” he said. “People are horrified by what everybody is seeing, and to be able to do just a very little bit and bring everybody together in a way that really builds resilience for our own community is so important. I think you can see the lines of cars here lining up to drop stuff off. People just want to do whatever they can. We have people that have shown up handing out cash out of their window. We have people that are showing up that are unemployed and did whatever they could to drop off one bag of something.”

Ponsky said a need remains for more arts and crafts supplies and children’s activities.

“We’ve got an incredible amount coming in of just basic needs – toothbrushes, toothpaste, dental floss, things that people all left behind in their homes, wound care,” Ponsky said. “You could see they’re coming in by the droves. I would say that anything people have that is not expired – that are basic things you would have in your medicine cabinet, in your bathrooms, a lot of people are bringing blankets and jackets and sleeping bags – all these kind of things are really well-needed. And these are things that are vetted through our local contact on the ground in Poland and on the Ukrainian border telling us directly what they would still like to see more of.”

Ponsky credited the business community for coming together to support the cause as well.

Lunches were provided by Tommy’s Restaurant in Cleveland Heights, Munch in Solon and Davis Bakery & Deli in Woodmere, he said.

He also credited the Highland Hills Fire Department for its help to deploy the shelter systems and University Hospitals for providing generators, power equipment and infrastructure.

David Landever, a MedWish board member for 25 years, showed up to volunteer and also donated.

“Today is profoundly important, not only being something that Clevelanders can do to help out for people who are thousands of miles away and in desperate need for support,” Landever, a Shaker Heights resident, told the CJN March 13. “It’s a cause that is sensitive to the Jewish population and Americans generally. I’m proud that my children are here and able to give back. I’m proud of MedWish for finding a way to provide support. It’s great that MedWish and Medworks have been able to collaborate on this effort. This is such an intersection of both of the organizations’ missions.”

Interest in volunteering for the drive was so high, the organizations had to turn away volunteers, Landever said.

Due to the weekend’s turnout, it’s almost certain that more drives will be held throughout Northeast Ohio, Ponsky said.

And for those who were unable to donate this weekend, MedWish also accepts donations from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday at its warehouse at 1625 East 31st St. in Cleveland.

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