When Russian troops started massing on the border of Ukraine, Anna, a native of Poland and current resident of Sarasota, didn’t hesitate. She spread the word among friends in Poland that her family home there was available to be a safe haven for any refugees who might be fleeing the violence.
“I lived in Poland in the ‘80s when it was under the wing of Russia. Although I never had to leave home and run away, I can empathize with the Ukrainians,” says Anna, who asked not to reveal her last name or location of her family home in order to protect everyone’s safety.
At first no one took her up on the offer, but as the violence escalated, a friend in Poland called and asked if she was serious.
“I said, ‘of course’,” says Anna. “My father had passed away in Poland last year and my brothers and I had gone over to put everything in order. His house was clean and empty and just sitting there locked up. We didn’t intend to live there ourselves, but we weren’t yet ready to sell the home.”
When Anna learned that several women and children needed shelter, she had her friends in Poland get the house ready by turning on the heat, putting food in the refrigerator and placing sheets on the bed.
“I wanted to provide all the basic necessities for guests,” says Anna.
Anna points out that she isn’t alone in helping Ukrainian refugees. “Many Polish families and businesses are inviting people into their homes, while they are still living there themselves,” she says.
“The people in Poland are extending a great deal of help and I’m extremely proud of my country for helping its neighbors,” she adds.
But her situation is a little different, she says. “My house is sitting empty. I can offer people privacy. They can stay there as long as they need and have some semblance of being a family while they are away from their own home. It’s the perfect arrangement.
“It was the only logical thing I could think of after seeing people fleeing their country with only a suitcase or two,” she says.
Anna’s offer of support is just one example of how the greater Tampa Bay Area community is coming together in a short period of time to assist the Ukrainian people, says Duggan Cooley, CEO of the Pinellas Community Foundation.
“A lot of people are worried about the human toll of this heartbreaking humanitarian crisis, he adds. “Everyone is trying to find ways to help, whether it’s through a donation, an offer like Anna’s, or local churches collecting supplies.”
A colleague put Anna in touch with the Pinellas Community Foundation just as the philanthropic organization was launching a Ukraine Humanitarian Relief Fund of Tampa Bay.
“We had so many folks ask for recommendations on how they could provide support that we decided to open a fund at the Foundation,” says Cooley. “We wanted to establish a trusted place for the community to donate money.”
The Pinellas Community Foundation is collaborating with national and international humanitarian relief efforts already underway, as well as with Community Foundations Ukraine, an existing network of philanthropic organizations in Ukraine.
“We’ve been connecting with the Community Foundations Ukraine board chair to find out what their needs are,” says Cooley. “It’s very sad to hear from someone there who is on the ground, directly experiencing what is going on.”
For more information, visit the Pinellas Community Foundation online.
See related story: Tampa Bay supports Ukraine relief efforts. Note: The Epiphany of Our Lord Ukrainian Catholic Church is no longer receiving donations of supplies but is accepting monetary donations. You can also email the Course of Action Foundation.