At last count there were 80,000 displaced Ukrainians in Spain, and 20,000 in Valencia. More Ukrainians are arriving every day. They arrive with all their worldly possessions stuffed into a backpack, or a suitcase. Some of these refugees will find their way to the Help Ukraine, Valencia shop.
Donna and I volunteer at the shop on Wednesdays. It’s right around the corner from our apartment. We sort clothing, keep the food shelves stocked, and make “runs to the garage” (usually to store donated winter clothing). We are meeting people and making connections we never expected to make. Ukrainian volunteers, fellow expats, and Ukrainians both young and old make Wednesdays a lively part of our week.
With our own eyes we see our donations, the donations of friends and community members come into the shop and leave in the arms of Ukrainians who have sought safety in Valencia. We share smiles and laughter. A quiet thank you is always the last thing we hear as people head out the door.
A mother and three children came into the shop last week. The sisters were older, very polite, and self-sufficient. The three year old boy was being cautious. I brought him a toy car to play with. He played with it for awhile and then handed it back to me. I set it down on a chair. He came back to it again and again. Then his sisters discovered a box with brightly colored plastic dinosaurs and farm animals in it. They called him over and he practically dove in.
When the family was gathering together to leave Donna gave the three year old a blister pack full of dinosaurs. Everyone got coloring books. Sets of colored pens were offered, but only one set was taken. Sharing was expected.
As the family was leaving I noticed the car still sitting on the chair. I grabbed it and handed it to the three year old. He handed it back as if I was making a mistake. I handed it to him again. He looked at his mother for assurance, then back at me. I gave him a thumbs up. His mother nodded. A smile spread across his face. He held the toy car in the air and said, ”Vroom! Vroom!”
Despite spontaneous shopping trips to the stores across the street, and community members delivering bags of groceries all the volunteers knew we were running out of food. We knew that before we opened the doors in the morning.
As this humanitarian crisis and insane war continue the needs will grow. At the end of the day with equal measures of hope and sadness we locked up the shop knowing the food shelves and cupboards were bare.
My thinking about giving continues to evolve. At the core I believe giving, making sure everyone is fed, and lending a helping hand are essential in a society that values its peoples’ success. I thank my own parents and the Tulalip tribal community for these teachings. In my heart I call the names of the elders who held fast to these values.
My message here is simple. Give what you can, when you can, and where you can. May we all prosper!