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Local Businesses Step Up to Aid Ukraine

Millions are fleeing their homes. Those who cannot escape are left vulnerable and hungry as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues. But from 4,500 miles away, Vermonters are finding ways to help, with local businesses and organizations contributing to the effort.

Several central Vermont restaurants are fundraising for the nonprofit World Central Kitchen, which provides meals prepared by professional chefs in disaster-affected locations. The nonprofit operates at eight border crossings, serving Ukrainian refugees as they flee Russian attacks on their cities.

The Mad Taco, with locations in Montpelier and Waitsfield, donated 5% of sales — just over $7,000 — from the second half of March to World Central Kitchen, noted co-owner Wes Hamilton.

“They always do great work, and especially as a restaurant who focuses on feeding people, that’s just a very natural and simple fit for us.”

Red Hen Baking Company in Middlesex has contributed all tip-jar contributions to the World Central Kitchen since the beginning of March, said café manager Hannah Conner. Donations totalled almost $10,000 in the first half of March, and $10,693 in the second half, she said. Additionally, Red Hen is fundraising with cookies, frosted in the Ukrainian flag’s blue and yellow; all proceeds and tips go to relief efforts through the end of April, Conner said. The café’s online ordering section has an option to donate without purchasing as well. 

“People can do it from their couch at home,” Conner said. 

Fundraising with Cookies

Waterbury’s Stowe Street Café is also fundraising for World Central Kitchen via cookies. The café is selling Ukrainian honey cookies — and half-quarts of the Ukrainian beet soup borscht, noting on its Facebook page that “Love Beets Hate.” Donating on the café’s page is another option. Raffle tickets are also for sale through April, with winners announced May 1, said owner Nicole Grenier. Winners will receive a basket of local food, coffee, and art; or a stay at the Airbnb above the café, said Grenier, who owns the building housing both. The stay includes a Ukrainian dinner for two, prepared by café chef Stephanie Biczko. Efforts began April 1, and in less than a week, $2,258 of the $3,500 goal has been raised, Grenier said. 

“We’re feeling really encouraged that we will meet and … surpass our goal,” Grenier said. 

Beth Jacob’s Borscht

Businesses are not the only ones selling borscht to aid Ukraine. Montpelier’s Beth Jacob Synagogue recently hosted a borscht-sale fundraiser. The event came about, synagogue member and Montpelier resident Sarah Scotch explained, when Montpelier resident Aleks Chernamazov teamed with her, Synagogue Program Director Sarah Zwegust, and a band of volunteers to provide funds to a Ukrainian aid group assisting Chernamazov’s relative in Kharkiv. 

Under the leadership of Galina Kharlamova, the Association for the Protection of Human Rights in Ukraine “Basic Center” is providing such essentials as food, water, medicine, medical supplies, and diapers to Kharkiv residents, including elderly and disabled neighbors and families with children, Scotch said. The association maintains a database of residents’ needs, noting where bombings have most recently occurred, in order to funnel help to where it’s most urgently needed, Scotch explained. Chernamazov’s relative in Kharkiv is surviving on food thus provided.

Six synagogue members cooked borscht, Scotch said, with much of it coming from local Ukrainian-American resident Natalia Holubec, who volunteered their time and cooked with ingredients donated from local farms. The interfaith event, which took place last Thursday, raised about $3,250, Scotch said, with Kharlamova Zooming from Ukraine to discuss the situation on the ground. 

Although the event sold about 35 quarts of borscht, “We had a few — several— very generous donations,” Scotch noted, constituting much of the money collected. 

Donated Body Armor

With Russian attacks ongoing, food is not the only essential lacking in Ukraine, and Vermonters are contributing in other ways. The Vermont State Police recently announced in a press release that they collected “about 1,000 body-armor vests and 45 helmets, totaling over three tons of equipment, from law-enforcement agencies and residents across the region.” Public Information Officer Adam Silverman of the VSP noted the drive was part of an effort the California National Guard coordinated, and Vermont DMV assisted in shipping items. 

“This is a good use for this equipment, to help protect the people of Ukraine who are fighting for their freedom,” said Capt. Mike Manley, who coordinated the project for the state police. He added, in the press release, “We’re extremely grateful to our fellow law-enforcement agencies, the people of Vermont, and members of the public from outside our state who stepped up and made generous donations.”

The efforts are not over. Grenier has plans for a Ukrainian community dinner and art raffle at Stowe Street Café.

What’s Next?

The Mad Taco co-owner Hamilton said that, while nothing specific is planned, “The feedback has been so positive, and it feels good to even in these small ways contribute toward helping people in need.” Hamilton and his business partner are “well-aware that Ukraine is neither the first nor the last place in the world where there is this dire situation, so it’s kind of opened up a dialogue that we’ve been having of, we could’ve been doing this for Syria or the Afghan refugees.” He added, “Obviously we can’t solve everything and we can’t contribute to every situation like this, but it has kind of opened a conversation between us of, where are the other places that we can be looking to be part of helping people?”

To donate to the World Central Kitchen go to wck.org/donate