“We are struggling to process and make sense of the situation in Ukraine. Images of bombed buildings, dead civilians on the side of the road and long lines of people fleeing their homes haunt our thoughts. We feel drawn to do more than just watch…”
Bryan Gillette from Pleasanton posted this March 29 as he shared his family’s plans to help refugees from war-torn Ukraine and a plea for help to fund supplies and other necessities.
Bryan and Audrey Gillette and their sons, Colin, 15, and Decker, 13, took just two hours to make the decision to travel halfway around the world to help the people of Ukraine – those Ukrainians who are fighting the Russian forces and those fleeing the besieged country.
Picking up and driving thousands of miles “isn’t out of character,” Bryan said.
The “Alphabet of Travel” – self-titled because it is A (udrey), B (ryan), C (olin) and D (ecker) – is about meeting and connecting with new people. In 2017, Audrey and Bryan took Colin and Decker out of school for a year to travel the world.
They knew that traveling to Germany and Poland to help refugees was not going to be a pleasure trip. Flexibility was needed because there were no stages one, two and three. But there was no doubt that it would be ABCD.
“I think we knew what we were going to do was going to have an impact,” Audrey said, “not just for other people, but also for us. I don’t think it ever crossed our minds not to take the kids. Either the four of us went or we didn’t. We function like a family that way.
Through GoFundMe donations, the Pleasanton family has raised over $57,000 to support Ukrainian refugees in Poland and Germany. They left for Berlin on April 10, with the boys’ teachers at Amador Valley High School and Harvest Park Middle School apologizing for work that was not absolutely necessary.
Initially, the fundraising goal was $10,000, which Audrey and Bryan planned to use to rent two vans and buy medical supplies in Berlin, travel 10 hours to the Ukrainian border to deliver those supplies. to the refugee camps and bring the Ukrainians back to Berlin. The boys would be their parents’ navigators.
However, plans changed – partly because of border conditions and partly because the donation goal was reached by the end of day one and continued to grow exponentially.
“The support of this community got me out of the water,” Bryan said.
Because they knew they would need more than just financial help, as soon as the decision to leave was made, Audrey “let the universe know” by emailing all the people from their contact list.
“I knew people knew people who knew people who were going to help open doors,” she said.
Audrey was contacted by a former Pleasanton Police Department employee who said a current PPD officer, Mia Sarasua, was volunteering at the Ukrainian border. Sarasua put the Gillettes in touch with Sergey Karachenet, a Ukrainian-born EMT from Minnesota, who was also volunteering. Sergey spent 50 hours transporting the $10,000 worth of medicine bought with donations from Germany to Kyiv.
Much-needed tourniquets, costing $7,000 for 442, are arriving in Kyiv right now.
“I didn’t realize how much a tourniquet cost. But if you need it, that cost doesn’t matter because it probably just saved your life. Bryan wrote in a FB post.
Several thousand dollars were used to buy household supplies, food, clothes, toys and medicine for a refugee center in Swidnica, Poland, a town that has hosted more than 2,700 Ukrainian refugees.
Everything was bought in town because the Gillettes felt it was important to support the local economy. The Swidnica store owners were so excited to see ABCD because, until they saw them in the flesh, the people of Swidnica thought of the Gillettes as the “mythical American family,” according to their host, who explained that they couldn’t understand why a family would travel so far to spend money in a Polish town. Audrey said the host explained, “they’re thrilled you actually exist.”
“We saw there was a need and we heard that they (the people of Swidnica) were doing something to help them and we wanted to support them,” Audrey said of the town. “And we could,” Bryan followed.
“One of the surprises for me was to realize not only what we were bringing to the refugees, but also the hope that we were giving to our contacts in Poland, that there were people there who were ready to help them. accompany and support them,” said Audrey.
ABCD was also able to equip 10 Ukrainian children living in Berlin with Chromebooks and headsets so they could go to school online with teachers who are still in Ukraine.
“These teachers, I don’t know where they are. In bomb shelters? At their home ? asks Audrey. “I don’t know how they still have wifi.”
“It’s kind of a testament to the tenacity of the people there, trying to maintain some kind of normality.”
There is an orphanage in Swidnica, and ABCD asked for a list of items they could bring on their visit.
The “children’s home” is in a building that previously served as a correctional school, and the doors, barbed wire and bars make it less welcoming, Audrey said. Some of those children who lived there were left behind at the border, and their names and the identities of their parents are not known.
The interior of the house is far cozier than the austere exterior, with carpeted bedrooms, soft pillows, and stuffed animals on the beds, but the kids don’t and haven’t lived a life” normal”.
Knowing that a sense of normalcy is so important to mental health and well-being, the family offered the children some items on the list that were more “wanted” than “needed,” such as towels, bathing suits and cosmetics for two older girls.
“You try to put yourself in their shoes, which is even very difficult to understand,” Audrey said. “They had good lives in Ukraine. They probably lived in a comfortable house, they had jobs and the children were in school. They had what they needed – clothes, food, whatever.
“And now their world has been turned upside down and they are forced to rely on the kindness of strangers,” adding that no one knows how long this will continue.
Like most, Bryan and Audrey don’t expect the war to end anytime soon. Bryan noted that May 9 is “Victory Day” in Russia, a public holiday (somewhat ironically) commemorating the victory over Nazi Germany in 1945. There are fears the holiday could trigger an escalation in fighting in Ukraine.
Going forward, the Gillette family hopes to provide 17 Chromebooks and cabinets for clothing and storage for the orphanage, as well as supplies for the Swidnica refugee center. They also plan to buy more medicines to send to kyiv.
This is why the GoFundMe account is still accepting donations.
Bryan said there were a number of people here who wanted to help but didn’t know how and didn’t want to send money to a big organization. They knew, however, that donating to the Traveling Alphabet would put that money into the hands of those in need.
“They said ‘thank you so much’. I feel a little weird because I feel like we were the lucky ones that got to go,” Bryan said. “We would like to find another family to do this , to take up the torch,” he continued.
“We hope we inspire people to do something,” Audrey said. “And that doesn’t mean you have to go to Poland. What can you do for your next door neighbor? What can you do around Pleasanton? What can you do to make things a little better for someone else? »