For Millerton, NY resident Andrzej Wlodarczyk, time is of the essence. Over the course of one week, the Polish immigrant has gone from enjoying the prospect of Spring in the Hudson Valley, to finding himself in the center of an urgent humanitarian effort. Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine last week, many in the West have been exposed to the horrors of war from afar and are looking for ways to show support. For Andre and his wife Kim, support comes from an urgent grassroots fundraising campaign that has already garnered massive support from local businesses. In just a few short days, Mr.Wlodarczyk has already raised a significant amount for the people of Ukraine thanks to the contributions from small business from Millerton to Sharon, CT.

While he continues to build a GoFundMe page, Andre and his wife are guiding people to Sunflowers for Peace a US-based 501(c)(3) registered non-profit organization whose current mission is to provide medical and humanitarian aid for people affected by violence in Ukraine as well as World Central Kitchen which was founded in 2010 by Chef José Andrés who uses the power of food to nourish communities and strengthen economies in times of crisis and beyond. In the middle of his one-man crusade to gather aid for the Ukrainian people from those in the Tri-Corner, Andre stopped by the Main Street office to tell us his story and what brought him to this newfound mission.

How did your fundraising efforts get started and what was your motivation?

We have been watching the events unfold with great concern, so this has been on our radar, and let’s just say we have had little sleep in the last week or so. We have family and friends in Poland, and Ukraine, so there was absolutely no question that we wouldn’t just stand by and watch. We knew we needed to act quickly during this humanitarian crisis, we just did not know the response would be so overwhelming. The entire world is watching. As a Pole, I have direct access to many in dire need, and while we have been developing a Go Fund Me page, we have also been collecting and donating directly via wire for emergency needs, of which there are so many. 

Is there a specific organization that you’re associated with or are donating to? 

This is a question we are asked a lot. So many want to help and can help – we have literally had people passing us $100 dollar bills and more when they hear what we are doing.  Many of course want to donate to a 501c, so for that we are guiding people to Sunflowers for Peace. Sunflowers for Peace is somewhat local, based out of Newton and Boston, Mass. They are doing a fantastic job, and we too are contributing there.  Within 5 or 6 days they have raised over 1.5 million dollars, specifically for IFAK (Individual First Aid) kits and medicines. Our hats go off to them. We also recommend World Central Kitchen founded by Jose Andres who founded it in 2010 – he has been in Poland since last week cooking for thousands of refugees.

Do you live locally? What is it like to watch this story unfold from afar?

We do live locally in Millerton, and in Manhattan. We have been going back and forth, and have still been able to wire funds directly to Ukraine. We are not sure for how much longer.  I am from Warsaw where most of my family still lives, and a big part of my heart is there. We go often, and are lucky to have traveled all over the country, and to Ukraine, so this really hits home.  I did deliberate going back to Poland to help, but I have realized that, at the moment, my efforts here are more important.  

Andre and his wife Kim

I have never really done fundraising before, but I will not stop until this is over. Everyday we are speaking with family and friends, hearing heartwarming and horrifying tales.  This is on our border, people are not safe, they are terrified and being treated unjustly. How the Polish – and people in general –  are rallying is remarkable, the Ukraine people are our brothers, we are their kin.  This is now a refugee crisis, the world is involved.

What local businesses have gotten involved so far? How has the community responded to your efforts?

It has been amazing.  We have lived locally for 10 years, and have an incredible community here.  With just a few phone calls and a walk through Millerton, we had the support of so many, it brought tears to my eyes.  We will keep reaching out, and we are so grateful. There are so many that we still have not reached. To date, some of the wonderful local businesses who are helping are: Hammertown, Silamar Farm, Herringtons, Oblong Books, Montage AntiquesHarneys Fine Teas, and the list goes on.  The need is enormous, bigger than any of us can realize or understand. 

What are your ultimate goals for your fundraising campaign?

To get help and aid into the immediate hands of the Ukraine people, to help them make their transit to safe locations where they can secure food and housing, medicines, emotional support, clothing and more.  Our friends in Poland are organizing flats and transportation, medicines, phones, it just does not stop.  People are fleeing their homeland with almost nothing, it is a tragedy.  

As hard as this is to say or write, Putin is targeting civilians, schools and children. This morning we received the news, and video, of an orphanage we and our friends have been assisting that was in dire need of help to leave Kyiv, Ukraine.  It did not seem like it would happen, but it worked. The 23 kids are now in Warsaw,  some as young as 3 years old, awaiting further passage.  With friends we already have organized a dormitory, which was made available by the University of Poznan, for them to stay. A beautiful thing that also breaks my heart. There are of course many more orphans and orphanages that need to be rescued, and we are working on identifying and helping those and we know that what is now 23 children will be hundreds very soon, with long term needs. 

Of course we are spreading awareness to many who just don’t know how to help. Because of my origins, many have reached out to me asking, and so I understand that I have a role here.  I cannot stand by and watch.  I went through so much growing up in Poland, living under the totalitarian regime of the Soviets.  While I cannot really believe we are here, we are, and it is familiar to me.  We all must rally and defeat the evil here. 

Do you feel closer to the Ukrainian people because of your effort despite the distance? 

I have always felt a kinship with them. I took my wife to Lviv some years ago, it was magical!  The architecture, the people, the churches, the history. It used to belong to Poland before the Second World War, and I think it is safe to say it holds a place in all Poles’ hearts.  My efforts don’t make me feel closer, it is just what I have to – we all have to do.  Seeing the Ukrainian courage and spirit makes all of us feel for them. They did nothing wrong, and are being targeted so unfairly, it is incomprehensible.  

What is being unleashed all over the country is genocide.  It will take years, perhaps decades for the country to recover, and this could all get much much worse. Watching it live as we are all doing makes us all feel close to Ukraine – it is just so wrong. We are all Ukrainians at this moment of history and we must help in any and every way our fellow Ukranians – I will do everything in my power to do so.

Ways to Support Ukraine:

Andre’s wife Kim is holding an online auction to support the people of Ukraine here:

To learn more about Sunflower of Peace, click here 

Check out World Central Kitchen here

Here’s how you can help the people of Ukraine : NPR

23 orphans and 7 adult helpers, who were evacuated, made the very risky journey to Poland. Andre and other volunteers have already found a place for them to stay – a dormitory made available by University of Poznan. In the video below Sonia, a Ukranian refugee shows off her her new temporary home In Poland. Proudly displaying a map of Poland she found in her new closet.




Bangallworks in Stanfordville, NY showing support for Ukraine.