Friday, April 1, 2022

Windham volunteer steps up to assist Ukrainian refugees in Poland

Renee Darrow of Windham will travel to Poland
this month to serve as a volunteer for World
Central Kitchen, an organization that is
preparing meals for Ukrainian refugees 
displaced by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
She will work in the kitchen and assist in
refugee food distribution there.
By Ed Pierce

Watching the invasion of Ukraine unfold and the displacement and suffering of millions of refugees, Renee Darrow of Windham felt she was faced with a choice. She could choose to be affected by the world or she could choose to affect the world. Darrow decided to make a difference and will fly to Poland later this month to volunteer for World Central Kitchen, an organization assisting in the feeding of Ukrainian refugees.

World Central Kitchen responds to natural disasters, man-made crises and humanitarian emergencies around the world and is a team of food first responders, mobilizing with the urgency of now to get meals to the people who need them most. As a volunteer, Darrow will be working in the kitchen and helping directly with refugee meal distribution in Poland.

“I have no direct connection to Ukraine. My husband’s forebears escaped the pogroms in Ukraine over 100 years ago, he believes they were from Odesa,” Darrow said. “The family members that didn’t flee were almost entirely wiped out by pogroms and then the Nazis. Maybe his family received help from strangers on their way to safety; maybe I can be that stranger to others 120-ish years later.”

She said she felt horrified and helpless as Syria was bombed by the Russians and again when Russia invaded Crimea.

“When Russia invaded Ukraine, something in me just snapped and I decided that feeling bad and doing nothing was no longer tenable,” Darrow said. “I had to do something constructive, to put my idle hands to use.”

According to Darrow, she has traveled to Europe before but never to Poland.

“My husband and I were in Italy and Portugal earlier this year,” she said. “Poland is my destination simply because that is where World Central Kitchen said to go.”

A former information technology recruiter, Darrow moved to Windham three years ago with her husband, who is supportive of her efforts to do something to help the refugees.

“When I told him I wanted to go, his immediate response was ‘“when do you want to leave?’ Of course, he doesn’t want me to enter Ukraine for fear for my safety, but I have no plans to enter Ukraine,” Darrow said. “My extended family have expressed support. My friends are kind of curious as to why I would go, but supportive.”

Her departure date is uncertain at this point, but Darrow said she hopes to be on her way to Poland by mid-April.

“My plan is to go for two weeks, spending the entire time volunteering,” she said. “I have no idea what to say to someone who is a refugee other than ‘I came to help because I had to, because you matter.’”

As of this week, Poland has taken in more than 2.3 million refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine and more than 4 million Ukrainians have fled the country in total since the Russian invasion began on Feb. 24.

The World Central Kitchen volunteers organized and arrived in Europe in late February and have been distributing more than 2.9 million meals every day at more than 1,000 locations in six different countries, including Poland where Darrow will work. It is also delivering food and meals to cities and towns inside of Ukraine to help those Ukrainians who have not left and are unable to find sustenance and clean water.

Along with volunteering her time, Darrow said that she wants to bring as many medical supplies with her to Poland as possible.

“I want to take medical supplies because I heard Poland is running low,” she said. Today, I found a list of desired humanitarian supplies on a 

Ukrainian government website and I plan to acquire gauze bandages and (I think) Tylenol. If anyone can get me wholesale prices for gauze bandages or Tylenol, or would like to donate those products, that would be great.”

Donation items can be brought to The Windham Eagle, 588 Roosevelt Trail, Windham, by April 8 to be given to Darrow. 

She does not consider herself heroic by any means but she’s just a caring person who is doing what can she to help.

“I think it’s simply a matter of demonstrating humanity to victims of the savagely inhumane. I can’t stop psychopathic bullies, but I can show up and help their victims who have lost everything,” Darrow said. “Doesn’t everyone wish they could stop the Russians? Of course, but that’s not in our power. It’s in my power to help feed the victims of Russia’s war, so I will do that.”

Her husband told her that one of his friends told him that he thought her trip to Poland was extreme, but she scoffs at that notion.

“I think it’s extreme to do nothing, to not go when I have the means, the time, the energy,” she said. “Doing nothing seems inhumane, a sin of omission.” <

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