LYNDONVILLE — Local Rotarians heard from their counterparts in Plymouth, N.H. on Wednesday about how together they helped supply needs in Ukraine.
Three of the four founders of Common Man for Ukraine visited the Rotary Club meeting at the First Congregational Church in Lyndonville to share about the humanitarian outreach that’s happening in the war-torn country. Among the founders visiting the Lyndonville club meeting was Alex Ray, who created The Common Man Family of Restaurants.
He, along with Common Man for Ukraine co-founders Susan Mathison and Steve Rand, all members of the Rotary Club in Plymouth, N.H., ate lunch with Lyndonville and St. Johnsbury club members and talked about their initiative, which has provided $2.4 million worth of aid to Ukraine and Poland.
Members of the local clubs first learned of the opportunity to support the endeavor last summer and worked with Catamount Arts to collect donations during a Levitt Amp concert at Dog Mountain. The event generated $2,700 that was given to Common Man for Ukraine.
The Common Man support effort started shortly after Russia invaded the country last year.
“When the bombs started raining down, Alex said ‘we have to do something,’ and his guiding thought was that everyone in New Hampshire wants to do something, but they don’t know what to do,” said Mathison.
He offered a million-dollar match to money that could be generated through fundraising.
She said it was important to the group for people to know that each dollar raised would go directly to aid those in need, and the only way to ensure that was to go there themselves. They’ve made three trips since, with the most recent one they called the Christmas convoy, during which packages went to 1,300 orphans at 21 orphanages outside Lviv and Rivne, Ukraine. The supplies included 18 tons of food, 1,000 sleeping bags and 24 generators.
They’ve worked directly with fellow Rotarians in Poland and Ukraine to get supplies where they are needed. Mathison said one of the goals of sharing with the Lyndonville and St. Johnsbury Rotarians was to make them feel good about their role in the outreach and about being a Rotarian.
“You’re gonna walk out of this room and say, ‘Now I know. Now we know that besides what we do on a local level, the power of Rotary across the globe,” she said.
Their first trip included a trip to a town in Ukraine that at the time was seeing sporadic bombing. Before going there they made a decision to risk the danger.
“We had a little meeting with our Rotarian hosts about whether or not to go and we felt very strongly that we have a mission,” she said. “We’ve got to be brave; Ukrainians are brave every day.”
She said they were struck by the resolve of the Ukrainian people who are enduring loss and deprivation of basic needs. “Everywhere we went Ukrainian people would say ‘when we win’ not ‘if we win.’”
The mission in large part focuses on children displaced from their homes by war. In one city, said Mathison, 75,000 children had been displaced.
She talked about parents needing to send their children away from the danger.
“Put your mind around being a parent and putting a kid on a three-day train ride somewhere you don’t know to hopefully be fed and clothed,” she said.
Ray shared a story about visiting an orphanage and seeing the impact a single act of kindness can have on a child. When they arrived they encountered a sullen little girl who kept her head down, he said. After spending time with her and giving her a stuffed toy duck that had been donated, her mood improved considerably to the point that she was up and prancing around with a smile on her face.
Mathison said the duck came from a batch of several handmade stuffed animals that had been dropped off at one of Ray’s restaurants. A note was left in what appeared to be the handwriting of an elderly person, said Mathison. It read, “I can’t afford to donate. I can barely pay for my utilities. But I have yarn and I know how to crochet and so will you make sure these hugs get to the kids in Ukraine?”
To date, Common Man for Ukraine has raised almost $5 million. It’s something that Rand calls a “Rotary miracle.” The founders have set a new goal of $10 million.
“There’s more work to do,” said Mathison. “Share the website (commanmanforukraine.org) with everyone you know.”
Checks may be mailed to Common Man for Ukraine, 71 Main St., Plymouth, NH 03264.
Lyndonville Rotary President Peter Miller said he was grateful the local clubs could hear about the outreach happening in Ukraine. The Rotarians from St. Johnsbury and Lyndonville clapped in appreciation for Ray, Mathison and Rand to which Ray said the applause should be returned to them for supporting the effort.