Restaurants have long been known for their generosity, pulling together to help others in need in challenging times. Even when the pandemic hit the industry harder than most, we heard about the many brands preparing free meals for those affected and first responders.
Now, the Ukrainian people are finding themselves in the spotlight, at the center of a humanitarian crisis as the war continues. About 2 million people have left the country, the fastest exodus seen since World War II. The United Nations estimates that over 4 million will require refugee protection in the next few months.
Poland allowed over 1.2 million refugees to enter the country, followed by over 190,000 fleeing to Hungary. In the U.S., the Department of Homeland Security created an 18-month Temporary Protected Status for Ukrainians living in the U.S., benefiting over 75,000 Ukrainians that may be here on temporary student, tourist, or business visas, according to CBS News.
The conflict has also led to water and food shortages. Here’s how some restaurants around the U.S. are lending a hand.
World Central Kitchen
World Central Kitchen (WCK), the nonprofit organization founded by Chef José Andrés, was on the borders of Ukraine just hours after Russia’s invasion on Friday, Feb. 25, according to Bloomberg. As they have been doing since 2010, they were serving hot meals to people in need, whether a humanitarian, climate, or community crisis.
Last July, you may remember when Jeff Bezos awarded the Courage and Civility Award to Andrés, giving him $100 million directed to the WCK. Andrés stated that part of that money will go to helping Ukrainian refugees. Currently, they are feeding about 35,000 refugees a day at multiple border crossings and within the country.
Joining them are restaurants from bordering countries, such as Oh My Ramen from Poland. Chef Aleksander Yourz of Yourz Space Bistro partnered with WCK in Odesa, Ukraine, preparing thousands of meals for those unable to leave or who are staying to defend their homeland, as reported by Eater.
Business Insider reported on The Folly, a Romanian restaurant serving up to 100 free meals a day to Ukrainians crossing the border in an attempt to escape the violence. Andreea Cristea, the owner, reported that many people are women and children, as men between 18-55 are not allowed to leave. They are not alone in their efforts, as many in Romania, a country that experienced Soviet control for 45 years, are saddened and outraged and reaching out to help Ukrainians.
Restaurants Around the Country Join the Cause
Pollo Tropical, a chain with over 140 units across Florida, is also helping by pledging a $1 to go to WCK and the relief effort for every Original Family Meal purchased through Mar. 18.
In Chicago, restaurants are offering specials and hosting events. For example, on Mar. 16, about 50 chefs will participate in Chicago Chefs Cook for Ukraine at the Navy Pier to raise money for WCK.
Dimo’s Pizza has set up a site for donations and matches every dollar given. Several bars have also set up contributions per drink order, and Ed Debevic’s and Gino’s East sent half of all sales from March 7-9 to Voices of Children, the International Rescue Committee, CARE, and the WCK.
These organizations provide meals and other resources, including evacuation aid to Ukrainians. In three days, Hogsalt Hospitality reported raising $100,000 through a GoFundMe for hot meals served by WCK. Each hot meal is said to cost about $4.
In Bellingham, WA, two full trucks of first aid items and canned food left for Seattle to fly to Ukraine. These donations came from Magdalena’s Bistro and Creperie and the community.
Bakers Against Racism, started in 2020, is a worldwide organization founded by Paola Velez and others. On Feb. 26, the Bake for Ukraine campaign was launched.
Portland, OR, is “home to one of the largest populations of Ukrainian-speakers in the United States,” according to the PDX Monthly. Artists, medical teams, and tea shops have all found a way to contribute to organizations such as Global Giving’s Ukraine Crisis Relief Fund and Direct Relief. A Russian restaurant, Kachka, is donating 100% of its proceeds from certain items to the Red Cross in Ukraine.
Sending Money Through Airbnb
People are reaching out in multiple ways. As a way to send direct aid, people began booking Airbnb rentals without intending to stay there. As a result, Airbnb is waiving all guest and host fees for Ukraine. News spread and, in just two days, more than 61,000 nights were booked by people worldwide, grossing almost $2 million.
This is just a very small example of what restauranteurs and others are doing to lend a hand. Undoubtedly, we’ll see continued efforts to offer support and solidarity to the Ukrainian people. New York City’s well-known Russian Tea Room near Carnegie Hall posted this on their website, “The Russian Tea Room renounces Russia’s unprovoked acts of war in the strongest possible terms. For 95 years, the N.Y. institution’s history has been deeply rooted in speaking against communist dictatorship and for democracy. Just as the original founders, Soviet defectors who were displaced by the revolution, stood against Stalin’s Soviet Union, we stand against Putin and with the people of Ukraine.”