We Can Do It - Humanitarian Aid for Ukraine

Updated: Apr 7

Hello ducky friends. First, let me say thank you for the outpouring of support and encouragement I have received since I first started writing about my aid trip to Poland. Without your kind words, encouragement, and support, I don’t think I could be out here in Krakow feeling confident that I am making a difference and spreading the word about how others can help too. So THANK YOU!

Anna and Ewa with Soroptimist International - Krakow; two of the loveliest women I’ve met in Krakow (March 2022)

I am now halfway through my stay in Krakow, Poland. I have already met with some amazing people like the ladies of Soroptimist International - Kraków, a group of women committed to the idea of women helping women. This sentiment is so important right now because approximately 54% of those impacted by Putin’s War are women.

First round of donations, kids care packs (March 2022)

Now men, its fantastic that you are helping too, but when there is a crisis that effects women and children in a different way then men, we need to make sure women’s voices and efforts are at the forefront of the solution. Why? Because when women are not able to step up and help other women in need, certain feminine needs and family necessities just get forgotten about. Like when I showed up with boxes and boxes of tampons to donate on Thursday and: (1) The man helping unload them kept asking what they were and what they were for, and (2) When he was told what they were and what they were for, he immediately said, “Oh yeah, ladies have been asking for these for weeks now.” Ducky ladies, can I get a collective eye-roll please?


Tuesday, I made my first in-person supply donation from the goods I brought with me from the States. The volunteers who accepted the donations were beyond grateful. One man, a volunteer from Arizona, who has been in Krakow volunteering for almost two weeks, broke down in tears overwhelmed by the generosity and efforts of individuals from “home” who had donated to make my drop-off of supplies possible. He provided me with a list of items his distribution station needed for displaced Ukrainians.



Right now, the biggest challenge being faced by aid workers (other than finding semi-permanent housing and jobs for the Ukrainians who have fled their homes) is consistently receiving the specific items needed each day. Part of this challenge is that the needs change daily so when one charity is told the distribution center needs diapers, that organization will spend a week collecting diapers, but then by the time those diapers are turned in, the distribution center has just spent a week receiving diapers and is now overwhelmed with too many diapers. Today what they need is bottled water because at 7 a.m. it appeared they would have enough for a few days but by noon it had all been handed out. How does this problem get solved? With Gophers.

Polish volunteers sort through our donations while Ukrainian women and children wait to receive aid (March 2022)

A Gopher (go-for this, go-for that, go-for whatever is needed), in this case, is an individual, group, or organization who shows up at the distribution center, money in hand, and takes the list of needed supplies for the day, goes for supply purchases, then brings the supplies back within a couple of hours. Rinse-repeat-rinse-repeat until their allotted monetary donations for the day are spent.


Without Gophers, charity and volunteer organizations have to use the precious time of some of their most senior staff (the ones with access to organization banking and able to make purchase decisions) to make supply runs. This is not efficient, let alone practical when those higher-ups are needed for other logistical work on the ground. Right now, what is needed most is a network of Gophers who are being funded through private donations.


The Impact of Your Donations


All of you who donated before I left for Poland are helping to support my efforts as a Gopher here in Krakow. And I want to extend an additional thank you to everyone who has donated since I started sharing my on-the-ground experiences. As of writing this post, you all have contributed over $3700! That means Travel for a Cause will be able to purchase upwards of $9,000 worth of goods and supplies because the exchange rate right now is in the US dollar's favor.

My post-dinner coffee at Restauracja Europejska (March 2022)

Fat Mama Tip: Exchange rates and purchasing power can be difficult to calculate... for example, as of today, 1 US dollar = 4.2 zlotys (Polish currency), but a dollar doesn't buy you 4.2 times as much stuff in Poland. However, a favorable exchange rate along with things costing less in Poland helps make our US dollars go further in Poland. So $3700 USD will purchase close to 8,000 zlotys worth of stuff.


A great example of this is a nice dinner I had in Krakow. I ordered a hot tea, a fantastic goat cheese, arugula, pear, and beetroot salad with raspberry dressing to start, roasted duck breast with black currant sauce and lentils for my main, and had an after diner coffee with Baily’s. Now in the states I would expect to pay between $45-$75 for a meal like this depending on the restaurant. In Krakow I could pay in either zlotys or USD. So either $140 zt or $40 USD.


What I have noticed is that my purchasing power, the difference between zlotys and dollars, is between 2 - 3.5 times better in Poland. It all depends on what I’m buying. My dollar doesn’t go as far for physical items, like toys I have bought for Itsy Bitsy, which tend to be priced about double the zlotys than the same item would cost in dollars in the States. While food and consumables seem to be priced more favorably with a purchasing power closer to 2.5 or 3.5 zlotys per dollar.


So a nice meal in a tourist-centric Polish restaurant may only set you back about 140 zlotys while a Polish doll will be 70 zlotys. Either way, you look at it, exchange rate vs. purchasing power, your money will go much farther in Poland than it does in the States.

A volunteer hands out the packs that your donations allowed me to purchase and bring to Poland (March 2022)

So please, encourage everyone you know to donate. A $5 donation is equal to more than 20 zlotys here. $20 is over 80 zlotys. $50 is more than 200 zlotys… Do you see where I am going with this? Even if our purchasing power is only 2 to 3.5 times better in Poland (rather than the full 4.2 difference in our currency exchange) money is still going much further. Every little bit really counts over here and makes a HUGE difference.


As of Thursday, the greatest need at the distribution center is for bottled water, quality water bottles (like HydroFlask and YETI because they can stand up to a beating), baby and toddler food (nonperishable ones like Gerber, Happy Family Organics, Sprout Organics), toilet paper, feminine hygiene items, hand and body lotion, shampoo (let's also throw in conditioner), facial towelettes, hairbrushes, tooth brushes, mouthwash and toothpaste. Considering what is on the list, it is easy to see how the needs change daily … sometimes hourly.

A group of Caritas Poland volunteers managing a distribution center in Krakow (March 2022)

If you have been on the fence about donating to support the Ukrainians who have been displaced from their homes, please get off the fence!


This beautiful little girl was so excited to get her candy bars that she ran to me trying to share them (March 2022)

This isn’t a political issues. Why? Because regardless of the geopolitics at play that caused this crisis, these are real humans, real women, and children, real people who are suffering and need help. They were forced to flee their homes due to their cities being shelled to rubble. The situation is so heartbreaking that I am glad not to be volunteering to work the donation center. Why? Because I don’t know that I could handle it. I don’t think I could get through a shift without crying. I barely held my $%!+ together seeing all the kids who are living through this mess. I am so thankful I can be of service and make a difference as a Gopher.

Ukrainian kids open care packs purchased with our donations (March 2022)

The Crisis in Ukraine represents a problem that we can all work together to solve. I don’t care what you think about Putin, Biden, or Trump. I don’t care who you voted for, if you are right, left, or center. I could care even less about your religion or ideology. All that matters right now is that more than 3 million women, children, and elderly people have fled Ukraine because they no longer have homes. If you can’t get behind supporting that, then maybe it’s time to reflect on your priorities.


Now, I am not saying that everyone needs to hop a plane to Poland and get their boots on the ground. I am also not saying that everyone needs to reach down deep and give all that they can and then more. No, I am not asking for anything you would miss. So, how can we all get involved without having to leave our personal bubbles of comfort?


Providing Aid to Displaced Ukrainians is Easier Than You Think


So you want to get involved in humanitarian aid for Ukraine? That’s great, there is TONS you can do from your own home and without writing a check. I’m going to skip over the whole “just write a check” thing because I think most people already know that as a viable option. However, if that is the route you would like to go, please consider either donating directly to Travel for a Cause through my website or to one of the multiple charity organizations I have listed here.


Fat Mama Tip: If you do decide to make a monetary donation here are something to keep in mind. Consider setting up a regular monthly donation. This is vital to aid organizations, to have an ongoing source of funds. Even if it's $5 a month, it is super helpful. Displaced Ukrainians will continue to need aid for the next several months, maybe years, and people tend to forget about it after it's not front and center in the public consciousness, so remember to CONTINUE to contribute.

Aid tents and refugee centers, like this one in Krakow, need your support long-term (March 2022)

Also, unfortunately, there are MANY scams out there. It’s sad, horrible, and frustrating but there are duck-holes who take advantage of humanitarian crises and prey on people's sympathies and generosity. Don't give money over the phone or click on random e-mail links, Make sure the organization you're donating to is a someone you know, like, and trust (like Fat Mama’s Travel for a Cause for example, eh-hemm) or a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Charity Navigator evaluates and rates charities. Plus, their website already has a page dedicated to high-performing charities engaged in Ukraine relief.


Believe you me, check writing is not the only way you can provide humanitarian aid to the Ukrainians who have been displaced and now find themselves in bordering countries. Your actions and words can speak just as loudly as your bank account. It just takes a little creativity and some leg work. Here are my TOP 5 suggestions…

 

1. Start a Letter Writing Campaign: Write to your local, state, and federally elected officials. From the president of your kid’s PTA and the City Council, to your State Senators and Governor, or to EVERYONE in Washington. People elected to any kind of public office make decisions based on who is yelling the loudest. That could be you!


Get together with some friends for dinner or wine (or both) and about the time you are pouring the second glass for everyone, pass out some paper and pens and ask everyone to write down their thoughts about providing humanitarian aid to Ukraine. Then seal those letters up in an envelope and ship them off (don’t forget your postage). You can also call and leave messages at their offices. Heck, do both.

2. Get Social: Share everything you see about getting involved in aid work on your social feeds. Whether the post is someone asking for donations (hint hint), an anti-war meme, protest/support art, or stories about what is happening on the ground, be sure you are liking, commenting, and sharing. Not only is this a way to support humanitarian aid, it also inspires other people to “read more” and support aid efforts too.


Not to mention the more likes, comments, and shares a post gets, the more people will see it. Using your social feeds to promote humanitarian aid work is quite possibly the easiest thing you can do with the potential for massive impact. After all, you don’t have to be an influencer to brighten someone’s day by sharing their fundraising campaign on Facebook and asking your family and friends to contribute (hey, while you’re at it, ask them to share the post too).


3. Show Your Support: Add some blue and yellow flair to your person, yard, car, or house (why not all four?). Wear a shirt featuring the Ukrainian flag, paint your nails blue and yellow, put a Ukrainian flag next to your American flag (or replace your St. Patrick's Day flag that I know is still out there, with a Ukrainian one). Make a sign or bumper sticker for your car with words of support for displaced Ukrainians (heck, write it in the dust and dirt buildup on your back window). MAYBE even consider getting really whimsical by planting yellow and blue flowers in your yard or stringing up yellow and blue decorative lights outside. Really, the possibilities are endless. You are only limited by your own creativity.


4. Host an Aid Event: An old fashioned Salon if you will. Whether it is cocktails with a few friends or a full-blown charity gala, hosting an opportunity for people to openly discuss and talk about the need for increased humanitarian aid for Ukraine has TONS of benefits. First, you look great for doing such an awesome thing, but more importantly, it gives people a chance to come together and collaborate. Second, what happens when people collaborate? New ideas are born. Third, when like-minded people come together and start making new ideas, BIG things can happen. It’s times like these that people realize, “Hey, we really can get this done.”


Bing, bang, boom -- you now are the proud parent of a whole bunch of good that has been put into the world. Also, don’t be afraid to ask people with expertise to speak at your event. Having a guest speaker who can talk from experience about aid work, living in Eastern Europe or Russia, or topics related to to the Ukrainian crisis can help facilitate conversation and collaboration.


I officially volunteer myself to zoom into your events or show up totally unannounced and unwanted if you are near where I happen to be and I stumble across your event on Facebook… just kidding! But seriously, I will totally talk to anyone about anything Ukraine right now, it is SO FASCINATING and there is SO MUCH going on and the need is SO GREAT. Have your people get in touch with my people (by that I just mean give me a call, contact me through the website, or DM me on social… I will gladly answer).


5. Raise Funds: Just because you are not in a place to make a monetary donation doesn’t mean you don’t know people who could contribute. Choose an organization, charity, or aid group that you like and trust (I have my favorites listed here) and then decide how you want to help raise funds for them.


You could start a GoFundMe for a specific aid project. Try approaching local businesses and asking them to host a Ukrainian Humanitarian Aid Night where a percentage of all sales are donated to your chosen organization. Why not get super creative and hold an art show where local artists could showcase their Ukraine or Eastern Europe inspired art with ticket prices going to your aid group of choice while the artists have a chance to exhibit and sell their work. Heck, setup an old-fashioned lemonade stand. Just have fun with it!

 

Ultimately, it’s not about what you do, or even how much money you raise (if that is the route you go), its about raising awareness and amplifying the critical issues around humanitarian aid for Ukraine. That is a HUGE part of aid work. After all, if people don’t know aid is needed, then they won’t be able to get involved or donate. Knowledge is power and we ALL have the power to get knowledge out into the world.


So if you are concerned, anxious, fearful, or just plain old passionate about the situation in Ukraine, you REALLY DO have the power to get involved without ever having to leave your home or write a check.


Now, if you are like me and your anxiety, concern, and worry only increase by sitting at home while your passion seems to be burning your feet to the point that you just want to run headlong into the crisis and help before you explode (that was a bunch of convoluted metaphors, but you get what I’m saying), then that is great too! Check out the Travel for a Cause section of my website to learn more about what you can actively do to lend a hand in the current Ukrainian humanitarian aid crisis.

To wrap up this big, long diatribe about how you should get involved in aid work for Ukraine, I will just say this. I totally understand if you don’t want to make a donation to me or can’t get behind supporting my Gopher efforts with Travel for a Cause. I’m an individual, not a nonprofit organization, you don’t know me except for my crazy writing. I get it, but then choose someone else. I highly recommend donating to Soroptimist International - Santa Clara Silicon Valley or Soroptimist International - Krakow; both clubs have been unbelievably helpful to me in my Humanitarian Quest. If not to them, then please find another organization to promote, talk about, fundraise for, or donate to. Your support goes much farther than you will ever know.


However, if you do like what you’ve been reading about my experience in Krakow and see the benefit in channeling donations to someone like me who can then Gopher supplies to Krakow’s refugee center, then please, by all means, support me any and every way you can. You can find updates about all my activities in Krakow and the ways I will be continuing to support aid efforts from home on my social sites @Jodie.Fillhardt and @FatMamaTravels or on my website here. And of course, direct donations are greatly appreciated via Venmo: @Jodie-Fillhardt (last 4 digits of my phone: 5658) or on my website FatMamaTravels.com.


People need your help right now, and I can help make sure YOU are making an immediate impact.