Amidst 100-plus degree temperatures and the suffocating, smoky air from fires south of Moscow, 82-year-old “Svetlana” suffered without air-conditioning in her cramped apartment and wondered how she would survive. The intolerable heat and discomfort brought on by the ecological disaster made respite nearly impossible. What was she to do? Fortunately, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) was already in action—its response team ready to do everything necessary from check-in calls, in-home visits, revitalizing meal deliveries, and fan purchases to help those most tormented by the scorching weather. JDC, a leading provider of humanitarian aid in Russia, stepped up its daily services for seniors and children in response to the emergency situation, including creating a Moscow-based volunteer program led by more than 40 young Jewish students and professionals.

“With thousands of Jewish seniors and children languishing in the unprecedented Russian heat and smoke pollution, we leapt into action. By activating our strong network of community centers and social workers with supplemental help from young people who gave up their traditional Russian summer vacations to volunteer, we have helped many people escape the oppressive and exhausting conditions brought on by this environmental crisis,” said JDC CEO Steven Schwager.

In Moscow alone, JDC staff and the young volunteers—often recruited through Facebook and JDC young leadership programs—have made more than 900 calls and numerous home visits to isolated seniors. During these visits, the young people provided much-needed solace to the elderly and brought extra food, drinking water, medicine, and helped clean their homes. These volunteers have also staffed a children’s care center at the NikitskayaJCC, where air-conditioned relief is being provided for low-income families.

Outside Moscow, JDC efforts include increased monitoring and support of the elderly; the installation of additional air-conditioning units in its local community centers in regions most affected by the heat and the transportation of seniors from their hot homes to these centers. JDC also joined leaders like Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in making a donation to the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation’s fund for victims of the wildfires that were sparked by the high temperatures.