Full Hearts, Feeding Friends: Women Share Experience Volunteering for World Central Kitchen
Marge Cafarelli and Jan Hill Answered the Call to Serve Food to Serve on the Ukraine – Poland Border
By Leslie Dinaberg | August 25, 2022
When Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, Marge Cafarelli and Jan Hill were on their way to Tucson to visit family.
“We were spending 10 hours driving and listening to the news,” said Jan. “And Marge got hell-bent on going to help. She started ringing up her friends, like the International Board Chair of Habitat for Humanity, to see if Habitat was looking at repurposing buildings for refugees.”
There comes a time in many people’s lives when they start to really think about their impact on the world and how they can make a difference. Though Marge had been a longtime community volunteer, serving on numerous boards and doing hands-on nonprofit work both in Santa Barbara and in her former home in San Francisco, she was itching to do more.
It turned out that Kristen Desmond, former owner of the Flagstone Pantry in the Santa Barbara Public Market — a project Marge developed from the ground up and ran until she sold it in early 2022 — was on the strike team with Chef José Andrés, whose nonprofit World Central Kitchen was providing aid in areas all over the world, including Ukraine and its borders. With some guidance from Kristen, Marge got onto the volunteer list and quickly started to plan.
When the volunteer signups opened up, it turned out the slot was a week before the couple was taking a long planned trip to Portugal and Italy. “Jan looked at me and she said, ‘I’m not letting you go by yourself,’” said Marge.
While Marge was gung-ho to volunteer from the get-go, Jan’s work as a strategic leadership consultant had been really busy and she wasn’t sure if the timing would work.
Within five minutes of posting the volunteer openings, all of the slots were gone — and Jan and Marge both had spots. Stunned, “we went to lunch and we just looked at each other and said, ‘Did that just happen?’” laughed Jan.
World Central Kitchen is a very efficient, no-frills organization, they explained. When you get accepted to volunteer, they just send you one confirmation and only communicate on an “as needed” basis. Responsible for figuring out their own accommodations (a “lovely” apartment) and transportation (they rented two cars to start, uncertain of what would be available when they arrived), and because these two are planners, they also researched insurance and got a policy with Global Rescue, staffed by ex-Navy Seals who would airlift them out in case of an emergency.
“They don’t even give you an address of where to show up,” said Marge. “They gave us coordinates. I’m 63 years old, and how do I do this? Google Maps — you put the coordinates in and there it is.”
It turns out that those coordinates were for the Medyka border crossing, the busiest border crossing between Poland and Ukraine. Their first day, May 23, they left their apartment a little after 7 a.m. and didn’t leave the border until 10 p.m., spending those hours giving out thousands of sandwiches, fruit, and hot cooked meals three times a day to Ukrainian refugees. From a small tent loaded up with massive quantities of food, they also fed all of the aid workers and staffers from NGOs from all over the world that have come to assist with this crisis.
“Imagine having 300,000 people crossing the border on day one,” said Marge. “We were the only food tent.” Among the other groups they noted were various United Nations workers, multiple French groups, the Chinese Anti-Communist League, a group of Israeli doctors, a group of Canadians helping to build hospitals, ex-military volunteers there to teach the Ukrainians how to do triage, and Doctors Without Borders from all over the world.
Working with an international crew, without translators, and with very little instruction, they quickly got into the groove of doing what needed to be done. For example, mothers would ask for baby food or formula, and knowing that the French Doctors Without Borders had formula, Marge helped arrange for them to have multiple cases on hand.
Marge continues to reflect on her experience in Ukraine. “I never quite got what would make somebody want to run into a burning building, to war, until this happened. And I saw the images of these families and these women and children and elderly women, and I could not get there fast enough. That’s wild. Because I’ve never had that until now.”
The volunteer experience left them with enough stories to fill a book and as Jan said, they left Poland for Portugal with “the enormity of all we have seen and heard barely sinking in. It has changed us in ways that we can’t yet comprehend.”
“World Central Kitchen, they deploy resources in such a mindful way. I never saw waste; not one ladle of soup went to waste. Everything was given to someone to eat. By the end of the night, there was no food in that kitchen,” said Marge. “We were at the border, because a lot of people want to rush to the border, because they want to get through because they have a bus to catch or someone meeting them. So they’re in line and we’d give away 100 bags to people in line and also to people in cars trying to get back over into Ukraine. World Central Kitchen really deploys their resources. And that feels really good when you’re a donor. And you know that they’re using your money really wisely.”
As part of their involvement with World Central Kitchen, which has provided more than 25 million meals in Ukraine so far, Jan and Marge continue to fundraise for the organization, which works to provide food around the globe. To learn more or consider contributions, visit donate.wck.org/team/422024.