Ukrainian Relief Mission Makes Difference For Refugees In Poland

By: Brendan Samson

Topics: Ukraine

Tom Johnson and Jim Peterson made the most recent trip to Poland for the Ukraine Relief Mission, where they were able to provide food and other essential needs to refugees. BRENDAN SAMSON PHOTO


CHATHAM – Friends, family and donors of the Ukrainian Relief Mission gathered in Pate’s Restaurant on June 10 to hear about founder Tom Johnson’s latest trip to Poland.

Johnson, who started the fund on March 29, has already traveled to Poland four times since, providing aid for Ukrainian refugees. On June 10 he discussed his most recent trip and mission’s vision, which he said splits into three parts: advocacy, moments of dignity and stability.

As explained by Johnson, these three prongs help provide refugees with places to stay, food to eat and any other needs they have.

The mission started after Johnson, who had a contract manufacturing company in Poland for 12 years and had traveled there upwards of 70 times, saw that Poland had absorbed many of the refugees from the war in Ukraine and decided to do something about it.

“The dismantling of economies and the chaos that it could produce, and how it could adversely affect in a dramatic way, our world order, it has to be dealt with,” Johnson said. “We need to do everything in our power to stop; whether we help a hundred people or a thousand or a million, we've just got to prove that, that it won’t stand.”

In the short time that the mission has been around, Johnson has done just that, raising $300,000 in aid and spending it at a 90 percent-plus clip on the ground in Poland. The spending equates to around $1.2 million in Polish zlotys, which have approximately a four-to-one conversion rate, but a one-to-one spending value. This means that each dollar is worth four zlotys, but each zloty spends like $1 would in the U.S.

This conversion rate allowed Johnson to rent out the entire Hotel Promenada for a mere $6,700. There he was able to house refugees and give families a room to themselves.

On the trip that Johnson returned from just two days before the presentation, he was accompanied by his friend and Ukraine Relief Mission board of directors member Jim Peterson. During the presentation, Johnson made the point to focus on the moments of dignity that the two of them were to deliver.

As Johnson describes it, moments of dignity “provide individuals with specific household and personal items based on their unique needs.” One story of this that he told was a boy who had cerebral palsy.

“What he needed was a wheelchair, so that he could actually sit upright and actually go outside and get fresh air with his grandparents,” Johnson said.

Johnson also paid for him to have his first physical therapy session ever and purchased appliances that could help him function in his daily life.

“He had just been sick, so I bought an air filter, and then he needed a place that he could learn to eat,” Johnson said. “So, we got to a place that he learned to eat, and he hadn't showered in a long time, so got him a stand for the shower. So that's one instance. But it's an important indicator of changing a family’s life.”

That was just one example of the many moments of dignity that Johnson has been able to provide thanks to the charity. Others are helping by giving backpacks and school supplies to kids, along with laptops and other essentials for families.

With the help of some attorneys in Poland, Johnson is now working on starting a Polish affiliate of the charity that will allow them to open a cleaning business in Poland that can hire Ukrainian refugees so that they are able to work and earn a living.

“We're actually talking about creating a company and actually hiring Ukrainians,” Johnson said. “It's amazing because every time I go, I actually cook dinner with and invite some of the people that are in our care...and I always say, ‘what does everybody want?’ I’m like ‘Do you want to go to the United States?’ ‘No, we want to work.’”

Through a potential cleaning business and all the other aid provided by the Ukrainian Relief Mission, Johnson wants to do his part to right the wrongs that the refugees have experienced.

“There's just an awful lack of humanity, and I want to match the lack of humanity from what's going on with a pure sort of equal and opposite response of blind care for people in need, no matter what their circumstances are,” Johnson said. “If they're in Poland, and they're Ukrainian, they're displaced; we want to make sure that we offer the absolute best care we can to counter evil.”