Help us feed refugees from Ukraine

by Katalyst
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Help us feed refugees from Ukraine
Help us feed refugees from Ukraine
Help us feed refugees from Ukraine
Help us feed refugees from Ukraine
Help us feed refugees from Ukraine
Help us feed refugees from Ukraine
Help us feed refugees from Ukraine
Help us feed refugees from Ukraine
Help us feed refugees from Ukraine
Help us feed refugees from Ukraine
Help us feed refugees from Ukraine
Help us feed refugees from Ukraine
Help us feed refugees from Ukraine
Help us feed refugees from Ukraine
Help us feed refugees from Ukraine
We bought all just before they were exported
We bought all just before they were exported

For those of you curious how procurement works around here:

 

(me) – so, I heard you guys have decent cucumbers

(farmer, looking down) – well, I don’t know…

(me) – cool, so, I’ll take ‘em

(farmer) – um, so uh, like how many, I have 6 crates ready to go

(me) – yeah, I’ll go ahead and take ‘em all

- dramatic pause -

(me) – for the rest of the season

- crickets -

(farmer) – oh

(farmer, making eye contact now) – you uh, don’t want to know the price?

(me) – I was assuming it’d be a fair price

(farmer) – oh, yeah, totally, a fair price, especially since I don’t have to haul them to the market and stand around trying to sell what I can

(me) – guess that leaves you more time for day-trading

(farmer) – is that what the kids are doing with those phones that have TVs on ‘em?

 

But seriously, starting a few weeks ago we’re able to give out strawberries, cherries and cucumbers, and from this week, new potatoes. People love it, plus we get continuous feedback that the hot bread is still a hit (judging by all the kids who immediately rip open the bag then head for the nearest tree).

I think that’s one big difference between how we approach the situation and some of the bigger guys, we have a client orientation, continuously engaging, trying to be relevant, and having fun. Sure, it’s free stuff, and that shouldn’t be hard to give away, but you’d be surprised how many other initiatives have come and gone, either because they burned out, weren’t well organized, or had a hard time with moving targets. Also, if your box of free stuff is the same as what 4 others are handing out, how do you know they aren’t getting stacked up in the closet…or traded for some sandals?

Another big difference is that we measure success differently. Those with a more bureaucratic mindset are trying to maximize meals or calories or kilograms per dollar, whereas we’re trying to provide the most vitamins, and color diversity (within a very lean budget). Sure, we started with beans and rice the first weeks, then we evolved the menu…and now we have over 8k families on the waiting list…

Which reminds me of an interesting phenomenon our distribution team has picked up on in the last weeks, people returning from Europe and from Ukraine (who were here a month ago). We suspected that Moldova would be a good “home away from home”, because Russian is spoken here, unlike Europe, because the culture and diet and lifestyle are pretty much the same, and most importantly, because the cost of living is 20-30% less than in neighboring Romania (and much less than western European countries). Anyway, as of last month a sociologist joined our team, she came back to Moldova this summer to “finish that next chapter”, but jumped right in to engaging our visitors from Ukraine, to help us better understand their plans, their needs and their skill sets (because we need to add a few more to the team).

So back to our waiting list that’s getting out of hand, in the next weeks we’re going to start the next level of food support, a mobile farmers’ market (check out the teasers below). We’re getting 2 trucks and will convert them with shelves and tents and an extra door, so people can enter, choose what they want, then be on their way. We think having a sense of control, especially about something as intimate as the food you put in your body, is undervalued. You’re staying in a strange place, without a job, not sure where all your friends and family are, not sure where you’ll be next month, but you know your way around the kitchen, how to satisfy the kids, and that’s not nothing.

Let’s focus on simple pleasures, one plate at a time.

Watch your toes...
Watch your toes...
What we'll include next month, at peak of harvest
What we'll include next month, at peak of harvest
The one on the right lost her husband
The one on the right lost her husband
Our mobile market, but without the bananas...
Our mobile market, but without the bananas...
Vera worked abroad, now strawberries...from home
Vera worked abroad, now strawberries...from home
How we'll get fresh food to those outside the city
How we'll get fresh food to those outside the city
Ion & Olesea put everything into two greenhouses
Ion & Olesea put everything into two greenhouses

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Serving 600-700 families per day
Serving 600-700 families per day

Hard to believe we're heading into our third month of crisis response. And while others have burned out or left to chase adrenaline at the next disaster, or reached the limit of their capacity or creativity, we're still going strong, evolving our processes along the way.

We didn't set out to work in the humanitarian sector, putting out fires, but we recognized from the first day we were in a particular time and place, with the people, skills and experience to do something relevant. The tricky part will be transitioning back to developmental work with a medium to long term focus.

So last week we packed and delivered 12 tons of food boxes for thousands of families. And starting a month ago, we’re offer separate bags for kids, containing dried and fresh fruit, healthy crackers, a toy, coloring pencils and a book.

Not only do refugees and their host families benefit, but over 90% of our contents are Made in Moldova, stimulating the local economy. Recently we started including whole grain bread, which is a big hit, next week sunflower oil, and the week after that, fresh cucumbers and spring onions. Once the growing season picks up, over half the bag weight will be fresh produce, bought from Eco-village farmers, at fair prices.

We believe it's import to vary the bag contents, based on informal surveys, because we're client oriented. Sure, we could just buy the same thing, save ourselves time and money, and reduce packing complexity. But we're not approaching this with a bureaucratic, one-size-fits-all mindset, serving a captive audience. What we offer refugees is what we serve our own families.

Continuing on that topic, last week a consultant from a major humanitarian organization visited one of our distributions. She shared a story about working in Bangladesh, where they had been receiving the exact same food for 6 months, and how they begged for variety, even offering to exchange the entire box for just a few eggs.

There's an expression in charity circles, that it's easy to donate a dollar, but to do it right costs a dollar.

And there’s another expression that charity is a business.

Yesterday we had a disappointing experience with an organization that must consider us a competitor. They distribute less than one third the volume we do, but have a PR “footprint” at least three times ours. Although these days, not sure exactly what they’re doing, their social media posts seem few and far between. Anyway, they sent someone from their team to complain out loud during our event about an expired product, but when we showed him he was confusing the production date with the expiration date, he quickly disappeared.

We’re coming up on 100 tons of food, handed directly to tens of thousands of people, with a waitlist four thousand long and growing every day. I’d assume if we were doing something strange, we wouldn’t be so darn popular…

Almost half of our team are refugees
Almost half of our team are refugees
Sure, excel isn't sexy, but we'd drown without...
Sure, excel isn't sexy, but we'd drown without...
Warm whole grain bread straight from the bakery
Warm whole grain bread straight from the bakery
Mine's learning piano...well mine shot a 3 pointer
Mine's learning piano...well mine shot a 3 pointer
Over 90% local ingredients, in biodegradable bags
Over 90% local ingredients, in biodegradable bags

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Next time I'll help momma carry the bag...
Next time I'll help momma carry the bag...

A BIG thank you to GlobalGiving, and to all of you, your support has allowed us to employ 10 people and upgrade our facility to prepare and delivery over 25k meals per week to Ukrainians, and to the Moldovan families who host them.

We managed to make a video last week, check the attached link, it shows what we've been up to the last month. Those of you who are my friends and family, you know I’m not on social media, I don’t keep up with emails and I rarely give interviews to news crews, so this report is probably all you’ll hear from me, at least till things cool off around here.

We also just posted a new project, teaching basic construction skills to refugees while they stay here, in case they want to be part of the effort to rebuild Ukraine after they go home.

Otherwise, wanted to share some emotional stories from the last month.

Most recently, while distributing a few hundred food boxes last Sunday, we asked a sandwich shop across the street to make warm meals and drinks for our staff and volunteers. They’d pop over for 5 min to eat, since it was cold and rainy out, between moving around crates for 2 hours.  When my colleague Garth, from Canada went to pay, the restaurant gave us 50% off, said they watched what we were doing and thought it was cool.  I was impressed because it was just a small place barely paying the rent, but also because it was such a contrast to the McDonalds across from where we delivered boxes earlier in the day, who called the police on us TWICE...

Then about two weeks ago we got a second delivery of whole grain crackers, that we include in the bags for kids to eat on the way home.  The first time the driver asked what we needed a truck of crackers for, I showed him around, explained our refugee project, he was paying attention.  Then the next time he came he pulled me to the side and gave me 20 euros (about $25), a donation for our operation, cause he saw us on TV.  He said he's been lucky in his life, had both parents around growing up and a sister.  I got choked up, knowing that's a day’s salary for him.

And the third story is from a few weeks ago.  If we back up for a second, the day all this started, I woke up, heard the news, then ran straight to the box store (METRO), and filled the van half way with bulk food, then later with beds.  Anyway, once we transitioned to packing thousands of portions per day, we needed to buy and store pallets of ingredients.  The problem was that the supply chain got all mixed around, and people started hoarding, so I had a real hard time getting what we needed.  It happened more than once that I had something reserved, or even paid for it, then when the driver would show up, someone else had gotten there hours before and paid extra.  Consequently, I ended up running around to find stuff and confirm it and pay on the spot then load in my van, or sit there and wait for a driver.  Well, one day in the middle of all those start up pains, I cried a little as I ate some crackers driving home.

You see, earlier that day I went to a place that imports rice, but he ran out, said their warehouse in Odesa was destroyed.  Then I went to buy tea bags from another distributor, but he said the basic ones were packaged somewhere in Ukraine, and they got hit too.  Then I go to a frozen foods factory, to look at a packaging machine, price was cheap, then I learn it was made in Kiev, so no chance for spare parts, had to pass.  And last stop was another place that sells tomato sauce, made in Moldova, so no problem with supply, but he gave me a pack of crackers to try, said they're from a partner in Ukraine.  He got a truck of them really cheap, said I could almost name my price, that the other factories in that town were either hit or not functional, only the cracker factory still works, and they're running 24/7, selling or trading for whatever they can get.  I imagined the people working there, doing what they can to barely hold their community, and families together, even if it's driving around in a forklift or printing labels. And how they probably do the thing like Tom Hanks in The Terminal, eating crackers at every meal…

Anyway, thank you again for your support, everyone on our team is working very hard these days.  And we're not going anywhere, we'll get this mess cleaned up, we'll learn from it, we’ll heal, and we'll move on.

 

David

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Upgrading the electrical system
Upgrading the electrical system

Thank you very much for your support.

 

Within hours of hearing the news on February 24th, our old work van was half filled with food, and by the end of the day there were about 12 extra matresses squeezed in there too.

 

The team in the village has been working 6 days a week to get the dorms ready.  Once the heating system has been finalized, we'll start hosting.

 

In the mean time, we've been working with a Canadian charity to deliver meals to the border, supplies to hospitals and refugee centers, and soon meals to train passengers as they transit Moldova.  They may want us to assemble and deliver weekly boxes of food and hygiene items to refugees who aren't staying in one of the big centers.  According to the news this is a significant group, possibly 60-70% of all refugees.  Fortunately we've been delivering boxes of fresh produce around the city the last years, so scaling that up isn't unrealistic.

 

We met with all our gardeners from the village last weekend to choose and distribute seeds.  They already started seedlings in their greenhouses, 2-3 times more than in years past.

 

Next steps will be preparing the kitchen for packing hundreds of boxes per day, and reconfiguring the conference room to run vocational programs.

 

Stay warm,

 

David

Assembling the beds
Assembling the beds
Straightening the walls
Straightening the walls
Final inspection
Final inspection
Fresh coat of paint
Fresh coat of paint
All our tools have been working overtime
All our tools have been working overtime
Almost ready...
Almost ready...
Feeding our team of volunteers
Feeding our team of volunteers
Soup, sandwich and fruit at the border
Soup, sandwich and fruit at the border
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Organization Information

Katalyst

Location: Chisinau - Moldova, Republic of
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @Katalyst_K_MD
Project Leader:
David Jesse
Chisinau, Moldova, Republic of
$208,301 raised of $235,000 goal
 
2,207 donations
$26,699 to go
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