Story by Brian Carlton
Photos courtesy of Danville Historical Society
They needed help. Most had escaped with little more than the clothes on their backs. As Angelica Matczak saw TV news reports of Ukrainian refugees going into Poland, she wanted to do something. The Danville resident’s plan ended up bringing together everyone from local nonprofits to Averett University students, all donating and packing supplies to send overseas.
“This is what we should do,” Matczak said. “I am grateful for such an outreach of goods to send over to people in need and proud of our community for coming together to help out such a good cause.”
The Polish native, who works as CEO of Danville-based manufacturer EBI LLC, reached out to a number of different groups throughout the city. American National Bank, Bankers Insurance, West Main Baptist Church, Galileo High School, and Averett University all sent supplies, going off a list that was provided.
Since so many refugees were young children and mothers, that was the group’s focus. They contributed diapers, new clothes, shoes, and sleeping bags. There were toys and stuffed animals brought in as well; things to distract the children from their current situation. The different groups also brought in things like toothbrushes and baby wipes. But once all of those materials had arrived, then came another problem. They had volunteers, but still needed more help sorting, packing, and organizing delivery. That’s where Robin Marcato came in.
Putting Things Together
Marcato, the executive director of the Danville Historical Society, spent more than seven years working for the U.S. Agency for International Development before arriving in the River City. Before that, she also worked for International Relief and Development. The groups had a delivery location for the boxes: EBI LLC has an office in Poland, just outside of Warsaw. However, they didn’t have anyone to distribute the material once it arrived.
Marcato connected with some nonprofit relief groups in Poland, setting up distribution once the supplies arrived. Then she also started making calls around Danville to get people over to help pack. “Volunteering is good for the soul,” Marcato said. “And in Danville, it’s almost second nature. People here are always willing to help others.”
Within a couple days, you had Averett students working with kids from Danville High. Members of the Danville Police Department, the Nonprofit Network, the Danville Historical Society, and other volunteers from across the city came in to help sort and pack all the donations.
“Sending supplies to the Ukrainian children is important to me because I have kids and seeing what is happening to the children in the war hits close to home,” said Danville resident and EBI employee Susan Gaudlin. “I am proud to work for a company and in a city that has been so willing and eager to help people of the Ukraine.”
Another EBI employee, Marcin Babiarczyk, is from Wielkopolska, Poland. The Danville resident pointed out how people didn’t just donate. They also asked about his own family. “Local people have been so caring and asking how my family in Poland is doing,” Babiarczyk said. “It is very cool and motivating that Danville and Pittsylvania [County] are coming together to help people in need.”
So, What Happens Now?
At this point, all the donations have been packed and will soon be on their way to Poland. And all of it will be needed. As of April 22, 5.1 million refugees have left Ukraine. The latest data from UNICEF says more than half of the 7.5 million children in the country have been forced to leave their homes, with 1.8 million children becoming refugees in places like Poland. Based on the numbers, this is the largest refugee crisis since World War II and the first of its kind in Europe since the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s.
“This donation drive for the people of Ukraine is extremely important,” Matczak said. “EBI would like to thank everyone who has helped gather donations for us.”
The costs of shipping these donations are also covered. EBI is handling part of it, with the rest covered by Danish shipping company MAERSK. And while they’re not accepting any more supplies for this drive, there is one last request. The group is asking for letters. If anyone wants to write a short letter, if kids want to draw a picture or just include any sort of note, then EBI will add that to the shipment. The idea is to give some joy to people in a bad situation, to let them know someone across the world is thinking of them. You can drop those letters off at the Danville Historical Society offices. That’s at 406 Cabell Street in Danville’s River District. The Society is open between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday.
From letters to supplies, residents said people shouldn’t be surprised that everyone came together to help. “I’m proud of the local people for donating so much,” said Danville resident and Historical Society staff member Joe Scott. “That’s just Danville.”
Brian Carlton loves to tell a good story. The Axton resident has been in journalism 20 years, reporting on parts of Virginia and North Carolina for BBC Travel, NPR, and the Associated Press over the last few years. Brian also runs DogPatch Solutions, helping companies and nonprofits build their digital infrastructure and develop long-term growth plans.