‘Organized chaos’; Gastonia developer shares details from volunteering at Ukrainian border
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Joe Lenihan, the developer of Loray Mill in Gastonia, just returned from his first trip to the Poland-Ukraine border.
He created a GoFundMe to raise money for school supplies with a goal of handing out 1,000 kits to refugees and their families. He met that goal and he says he’s just getting started.
Lenihan documented his 10 days at the border through a video diary posted online.
He learned a lot once he got on the ground and found his way closer to Lviv where the most people were evacuating.
He returned to Gastonia on Sunday.
“My average day would be going to the border and handing out the packages to families leaving the border,” Lenihan said. “The second part of the day would be going to the transfer station where thousands of refugees would be bussed out. It was organized chaos.”
He says there are images that he will never forget.
“Seeing elderly couples in wheelchairs being carried across the border with tears in their eyes, knowing they just got ripped out of their homes,” he said. “They may never go back to their homes and they realize that. I had one young boy who just came out of Mariupol, and as we know they demolished that city. They were shell shocked. They were different than the refugees out of Lviv. It was PTSD, it was a look in their eyes, it was a different look, and that’s heartbreaking.”
He says the simple act of handing out school supplies made a difference.
“We saw a lot of tragedy, but we were also able to help,” he said. “If we just made one child smile, that was worth it, and we did.”
He has already raised more than $20,000.
He plans to raise the goal to $125,000 and he is seeking corporate sponsors.
“The way to do this now is to buy the supplies in Poland and have a team of volunteers there to put the packages together and drive them to the border,” he said.
That’s what he plans to do on his next trip in May, when he hopes to hand out at least 5,000 kits.
“We’re so blessed, I’m so grateful for what I have, but it’s always at risk just a little bit, and we need to remember if we can help someone else we should,” he said.
A dozen volunteers have already told Lenihan they will be joining him on his next trip.
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