When news broke that Russia invaded Ukraine, Pittsburghers reacted with a question: How can we help? Though the devastation is thousands of miles away, local organizations immediately mobilized to support Ukrainian refugees and rebuilding efforts. For organizations with a global reach, that meant leveraging existing relationships to direct funds toward Ukraine. For a local small business, it meant adapting packaging to raise awareness of relief efforts and directing proceeds overseas.

As the conflict continues with little sign of relief, PublicSource looked at three ongoing campaigns to help in the Pittsburgh area. Despite the pressing need for materials, ranging from everyday items to crucial medical supplies, experts say that the most efficient way to help is with money, rather than sending items directly. For those unsure how to help or where to direct donations, here are some efforts being led in the Pittsburgh area.

Global Links’ tailored response

Global Links, a Pittsburgh-based nonprofit, works with the United Nations to supply underserved communities with medical resources. Two weeks after Vladimir Putin gave the orders to invade Ukraine, Global Links launched a fundraising campaign, with a starting goal to raise $250,000. 

“For every $2,500 we raise, we can purchase new wound care equipment and supplies for multiple patients in Europe,” Executive Director Angela Garcia said.

In addition to providing immediate relief, Global Links is setting up a long-term fund to fill the gap after the initial devastation. “Everything we’re seeing being bombed — those hospitals — need to be rebuilt,” Garcia said. Targeting healthcare and other civilian facilities has become a central part of Russia’s military strategy. According to the World Health Organization, Russia has committed 150 attacks on Ukrainian health facilities. 

Because men ages 18 to 60 are prohibited from leaving Ukraine, the vast majority of Ukraine’s 5 million refugees are women and children. Global Links is focusing on maternal and child health and hygiene programs. 

Garcia emphasized the importance of monetary donations. “The best thing in any disaster is financial donations,” she said, which can be sent to organizations on the ground. This facilitates a more tailored response to people’s needs. Global Links is working with European partners who “can purchase [resources] more quickly and efficiently.” 

One reason the campaign does not ask for direct medical donations is that many U.S. supplies are not compatible with the Ukrainian power system. Garcia explained that equipment may be culturally insensitive or not usable. Sending supplies also takes longer than directly buying European supplies, and shipping creates traffic, which can slow down travel times for more urgent resources. Transportation and warehousing costs are also high. 

When people donate to “nonprofits that are supporting organizations on the ground,” Garcia explained, “their dollar will go farther.” 

Global Links is taking a two-pronged approach for its Ukraine fund, Garcia said. Some of the money is being sent to immediate refugee support efforts. Other funding is being saved for post-war projects, especially rebuilding hospitals. The organization hopes to “provide capacity for health services” once Ukrainians return home — which they have already begun to do as the war stretches on. 

To provide maximum support to their partners, Global Links does not spend money on publicity. 

“Our work is daily, 100% medical humanitarian aid,” Garcia said. 

Finding funds with the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

The Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh has raised over $11.9 million of its $14 million goal to support Ukrainians, regardless of their faith. Adam Hertzman, director of marketing, said the Jewish Federation has provided funding for medical, food, transportation, shelter and clothing needs of over 30,000 people. Over 1,200 Holocaust survivors, almost all of whom are Jewish, are among those receiving aid. 

When Jeff Finkelstein, the federation’s CEO, visited Poland a few weeks ago, he was greeted by a scene of solidarity. Hertzman said organizations are showing up along Ukraine’s borders “from all religions, all countries, side by side.” 

The Jewish Federation is partnering with the Joint Distribution Committee [JDC] and Jewish Agency for Israel [JAFI], organizations that were already working in Ukraine and “thousands of volunteers already on the ground on day one of the invasion,” Hertzman said. 

Their existing relationship with the JDC and JAFI allowed the Jewish Federation to provide immediate aid. Some of the programs that were already happening, like meal deliveries to homebound seniors, will continue. Others, like youth education, will pause while attention shifts toward humanitarian needs. 

“The Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh regularly raises money in emergency or crisis situations,” Hertzman said. He pointed toward responses to food insecurity in Venezuela and natural disasters in Haiti and Nepal as examples. The federation extends such a far reach by “always coordinating with other organizations on the ground,” both with its sustained international partnerships and with organizations like the Red Cross and interfaith groups. 

Donations to the Jewish Federation’s Ukraine fund have ranged from a dollar to a million. Like Global Links, the Federation acknowledged the prioritization of monetary donations over material ones. “At this time of uncertainty, when regular transportation and mail services are disrupted, the best way – perhaps only way – to help is in giving to organizations that are already in the country doing life-saving work,” the Jewish Federation says on its website

The federation is also helping Jewish Ukrainians “who have decided to make aliyah, emigrate to Israel,” Hertzman said. Nearly 24,000 Ukranians have taken refuge in Israel since the war began. Two-thirds of these refugees are not Jewish, and it is unclear if they will be allowed to stay.

Cell phone service, a vital method of communication for public safety announcements, is weak in many parts of Ukraine. The Jewish Federation responded by directing funds toward satellite phone distribution. “That’s an area where coordination in neighboring governments, non-governmental organizations and nonprofits has been a huge value,” Hertzman added. 

A packaged deal with First Sip Brew Box 

First Sip Brew Box is also helping raise funds for Ukraine. They joined the “Make Peace Not War” initiative, which has participating beer-based businesses tailor a pro-Ukrainian packaging design. First Sip prides itself on being a Black-, woman- and veteran-owned business in Pittsburgh. 

“We always want to support initiatives or charities or companies that support these [representational] values. So we give back through doing different events or campaigns like this,” said Emma Coburn, First Sip’s policy and communications specialist.

The campaign began in a graphic design studio near York, where artist Jen Borror wanted to chip in with anti-war efforts. Borror reached out to First Sip, who was eager to team up. 

Jen Borror’s design. (Photo via the “Make Peace Not War” press release)

The design features a blue peace sign swarmed with flower and fauna imagery, highlighted by a yellow background. “Images are universal,” the initiative’s press release says. “Everyone, no matter what language they speak, knows the meaning of the symbol of peace.” 

Proceeds from First Sip’s peace-themed beer boxes support international nonprofits like Red Cross Ukraine and World Central Kitchen. 

Dennis and Sammie Guy launched First Sip in 2016. It packages beer merchandise (but not the beer itself) from independent breweries and sells the boxes as monthly deliveries, wedding favors and corporate or holiday gifting. In addition to its campaign for Ukraine, First Sip is selling swag boxes to promote Kweza Craft Brewery, Rwanda’s first microbrewery. The company also works with nonprofits Black is Beautiful, Folds of Honor and Cancer Bridges.  

Supporting Ukraine felt like a logical next step for First Sip, which grounds itself in community building. “They’re a small business themselves,” Coburn said of First Sip, “but they use their business to support other small businesses and learn how to be successful.” 

Sophia Levin is a PublicSource editorial intern. She can be reached at sophia@publicsource.org.

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Sophia Levin, a student at Carnegie Mellon University, is a freelance journalist and former PublicSource intern.