Now that I’ve been home for a week, some reflections

Everything happened so fast and then it was over. Planning, travel, contacting people, volunteer service and sharing your donations with others. It all happened in just a little more than a month. WOW!

I so remember my concerns about safety and all the unknowns before we left. Even when we arrived for our overnight at Warsaw airport. There, we met people returning with stories for their service. Some were simple like making toys for children to play with while waiting in line to start processing. Others were much more serious like a doctor working in Lviv where rockets landed in front of the hotel where he was staying or a young woman working for Amnesty International who had traveled to Bucha to document Russian atrocities.

My drive to Przemyśl was filled with anxious anticipation and anxiety, but also excitement. Would we be able to make contacts with people who needed our help? What would our work with World Central Kitchen be like? Would we be able to work the 12 hour shifts?

On arrival day, we dropped our luggage at our rented apartment and headed to the border. The road to Medyka was filled with parked transport trucks waiting to bring goods to Ukraine. The line went on for miles as they waited sometimes for days to get in. At border where people walked into Poland, it was a bit surreal. There was a path that led from a street to the actual official border crossing. On both sides were tents from relief groups from all over the world. But by the time we arrived, the number of crossings was down to a trickle. There were many more people helping than there were people arriving. And there were people now heading back to Ukraine. This was far from the crowded scene we had read about when we started planning. We worried that we had make a mistake and briefly talked about trying to get to Krakow or even Romania where people from the south were fleeing the ongoing battle.

What a relief it was to start working. It was hard work. Our “restaurant” was set up like a café with seating for less than 50 people. So, many people would get food and walk out; back to another part of the building. We never did know where what went. I don’t recall seeing many tables set up around this huge center. I’m guessing they sat on the edge of the cot they slept on at night. I grilled hundreds and hundreds of paninis, served hot food, cleaned, restocked, made coffee and tea and got into the rhythm of things. Communication was difficult; not having any common language with most of the displaced Ukrainians. But I learned to recognize some words that meant either just a little, or a little more and a hand gesture that looks like stop/no more or but was actually no more after this spoonful of potatoes, and I recognized when people said thank you. I learned that a simple smile as a greeting goes a long way to lifting peoples’ spirits even if only momentarily, as does saying hello even in English to people I recognized. It felt good when I saw people smile back at me. Even when outside of the café, we acknowledged each other as acquaintances if not friends. I’ve written a lot about this in other blog posts. But it wasn’t until our last couple of days that I realized just how valuable our work was. We had a large group of new displaced Ukrainians arrive one day. They appeared so grateful for the food, and it wasn’t until Helen with her Russian language skills, was told that the food and our facility, was beyond anything they could have expected and just how wonderful that was after the journey they had made. One of World Central Kitchen’s tag line is “A Hot Plate Of Food When It’s Needed Most.” I am so grateful that we were able to serve people food!

As has been written in our other blog posts, we gave away a lot of the money that you donated, to individual people who needed it and to other groups helping out in Ukraine. But looking back, our time there was too short, and we were not able to give it all away while there. Fortunately, we made so many contacts that we will have no problem completing our mission. It just may take a little while.

Thanks for reading this. It was important to me that write it. It reminded me of so many emotional and often tearful moments. I’m so grateful that I had the opportunity, time and resources to help in my own small way.

9 thoughts on “Now that I’ve been home for a week, some reflections”

  1. Thank you three for your kind and open hearts–and hard work! I am a friend of Helen and hold the three of you in my heart for standing up for what is good and meaningful in our world.

    MUCH LOVE, Phil Charles

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  2. Thank you to all three of you for doing so much for the refugees! You really stepped up in a tremendous way to help. And thank you for writing about it so that we could see the situation through your eyes.

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    • Thank you for the kind words. We are all a bit overwhelmed by the praise we have received. I guess for us it was a pretty easy decision to go and things fell into place quickly. We did meet volunteers who just showed up without a plan. There is certainly no shortage of need. And mostly it felt like being in a small city like so many we have visited

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  3. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Bruce. Even vicariously, you have enhanced my appreciation for the peace, security, and liberty that me, my family and friends have had in our lifetimes. The posts from you, Sandy and Helen have been vivid, and straight from the heart. As a country, we need to do better … WAY better, for everyone here and the world too. I admire your humility when you express gratitude for being able to help in your own small way. But no mistake about it, what you’ve DONE is huge. Good grows. Email me when you’re up for a nostalgic bike ride up the Minuteman! Lunch at Ferns on me! /Joe (approaching 100 days into “retirement”)

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  4. Thanks for your amazing work and for keeping the rest of us informed about your experience! Very grateful for all you three have done.

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