Seven local Rotary International clubs in Cowlitz and Lewis counties are working with members near the Russia-Ukraine conflict to donate money and medical supplies to Ukrainian refugees.
The two Longview Rotary clubs, two clubs that meet in Chehalis, and one club each in Kelso, Woodland and Centralia have raised almost $20,000 for a Rotary club in Poland, roughly an hour from the Ukrainian border.
“There are people who have a real need and that’s what Rotary does,” said Kelso Rotary President Randy Hall. “We felt it was our duty to help them.”
Anil Puri — of the Twin Cities Rotary club for Chehalis and Centralia members— oversees the seven local Rotary chapters. He said local club leaders found the closest Rotary club to Ukraine and reached out in early March to figure out how Rotarians on the other side of the globe could help during the conflict.
The leaders found a club two hours south of Warsaw, Poland, and roughly an hour from the Ukrainian border in a city of roughly 65,000 people called Zamosc. Since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, the United Nations reports 2.2 million Ukrainian refugees have fled to Poland.
The presidents of the local Rotary chapters joined a Zoom meeting with the Poland Rotary leaders and a translator in early March to form a plan to donate funds and supplies.
Within days, Puri said 200 compression bandages requested by the Poland chapter were shipped. Last Wednesday, Puri said the volunteers wired $10,000 in donations to the Poland club. He anticipates another $10,000 will be sent in the upcoming weeks.
Strength of clubs
Rotary International is a volunteer organization located in 200 countries with roughly 1.4 million members, who support people around the world in areas like education, business and environment. In the local Rotary district, which covers Vancouver Island, Canada, southern Pierce County and Western Washington from the Olympic Peninsula to Woodland, there are 94 clubs with 4,400 total members, according to the district’s website.
Locally, the Kelso Rotary hosts a holiday light show in December; the Longview Early Edition Rotary hosts the 5K or 10K Harvest Classic in the fall; and the Longview noon Rotary hosts the annual Squirrel Fest in August.
Longview Early Edition Club President Bill Fashing said he learned, first hand, the struggles people near the Russia-Ukraine War are facing through the Zoom call, and the amount of money raised shows “the strength of our Rotary clubs.”
Hall said the Kelso club also donated another roughly $4,000 to supply makeshift, temporary homes for refugees through another regional Rotary club.
Puri said Rotarians can donate to a fund called Rotary International Disaster Relief (my.rotary.org/en/disaster-response-fund), which the local district of 91 clubs will match, dollar-for-dollar, up to $50,000. Puri said he hopes to send another $100,000 through that source, which will supply grants to organizations in need.
“Rotarians always rise to the challenge if the need is there,” Puri said.