A year and a half after the Russian invasion in February 2022, some 17 million people in Ukraine are still in need of assistance and nearly 8 million refugees, mostly women and children, have been driven to neighboring countries. With such astounding numbers, it can be easy to become discouraged about the situation. Fortunately, there are groups out there still working hard to help.
One of those is Matthew 25: Ministries, a Cincinnati-based international humanitarian aid and disaster relief organization. The nonprofit works with global partners to provide basic necessities and disaster relief to those in need. Typically, Matthew 25 moves its cargo on 40-foot ocean-bound containers, but it can take up to four months to reach their destination, and shipping costs can get astronomical.
So it was a blessing when, at the start of 2023, GE Aerospace, a long-standing supporter of Matthew 25’s humanitarian work, offered the group a new form of support: a connection with Airlink, a global humanitarian organization delivering critical aid to communities in crisis by providing free airlift and logistical solutions to nonprofit partners.
The opportunity to airlift supplies was game-changing. Instead of the usual four months, Matthew 25 was able to get a shipment of 47 pallets onto a United Airlines plane from Cincinnati in May, and within three weeks it was at the door of their partner organization, the Federation of Jewish Communities of Ukraine (FJCU), ready to be distributed. Already, more than 21,000 people have been served by the mission.
Ben Williams, director of disaster relief at Matthew 25, says it was “magical” how things aligned for Matthew 25, Airlink, and the FJCU. First, the FJCU got in touch to request one particular item of need: “Clothing, especially new clothing, is something that is so needed right now and, as the seasons change, something that is always needed,” Williams says. “People in these areas don’t have access to be able to go out and purchase clothes,” whether it’s a warm coat or underwear, “so we need to make sure that they have the summer wear they need and then the winter items they need in the next couple of months.”
With the ticking clock of the changing seasons, speed was an essential factor in the mission. Luckily, large donors reached out to Matthew 25 with pallets of new garments around the same time that the conversations with Airlink began. The quick work of several parties allowed Matthew 25 to drastically reduce its shipping time.
Airlink’s support went further than just speeding up the process. Shipping internationally is often filled with obstacles at customs, especially in crisis areas, but Airlink, which is based in Washington, D.C., got the shipment through easily. They also handled logistics coordination for first- and last-mile transport in collaboration with freight-forwarding partner SEKO Logistics, who picked up the 47 pallets and delivered them to the FJCU’s door. And because Matthew 25 saved tens of thousands of dollars in shipping costs, it can now use that money for other essential supplies and support. (To date, the organization has assisted over 2 million people in more than 20 Ukrainian cities as well as four surrounding countries since the crisis began.)
The airlift, says Williams, “would not have been possible” without GE Aerospace. “They’ve been a very loyal partner of ours for a long time. They send volunteer groups to us all the time, and between that and financial support they’ve provided us over the years, it’s a really valuable partnership.”
“The impact of these supplies is hard to grasp for us here in the U.S. in our normal day-to-day lives,” says Williams. “Providing people with something to wear, it seems so simple, but they’re in these relief shelters, they don’t know if they’ll ever be able to return home. To have something nice, a clean outfit to wear that smells good, it gives them more confidence, more hope, and it’s a good reminder to them that there are people who really do care about them.”
The mission is also a reminder of how the combined power of corporate reach and influence with nonprofit vision and infrastructure can take humanitarian efforts to a whole new level. “The partnership is just beginning,” says Williams, “and I know it’ll continue to benefit people around the world for a long time to come.”