Boxes full of clothes, blankets, sheets, scarves, and gloves fill Natalie Raymond’s garage in Cumberland Township. The items are also filling her heart. About a year after the Ukraine native’s mother died in a Polish nursing home, Raymond channels her grief into energy to aid her homeland.
When Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, Raymond’s mother was living amongst the destruction. Relief workers transported her to Poland. In Gettysburg, Raymond anxiously waited for updates while feeling powerless. Friends rallied around her and she was eventually able to travel to Poland. Her mother died and Raymond returned to Gettysburg heartbroken.
Meanwhile in neighboring Emmitsburg, Maryland, retired McDaniel College professor Catherine Bodin began collecting items for Ukrainians in need. Churches, The Seton Center, law offices, and The Town of Emmitsburg signed up to help.
“We don’t actually know how many bags or boxes there were but they overflowed the collection boxes in the Leesburg airport when I went!” Bodin said.
Bodin contacted Raymond, who was still processing her mother’s death. She patiently stayed in touch while giving Raymond the space she needed. One day, Raymond remembered an important lesson from her mother.
“My mom would never sit, she would say ‘We need to do something,’” she recalled.
Raymond’s first mission
Raymond has a long history of following her mother’s advice.
When Ukraine gained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Raymond believed music could connect her people with the United States. She emigrated here in 1999 at the age of 38 and began a music exchange program between the two countries.
She returned to her homeland often with American musicians. In America, Raymond promoted Ukranian music through newspaper and magazine articles, lectures on college campuses, and journal pieces.
She treasures a scrapbook of memories from those years, including a letter from Microsoft founder Bill Gates touting her efforts.
“I wanted very much to connect both countries in a special, professional, musical way,” she said. “I considered myself the musical ambassador between Ukraine and America.”
A new focus
Almost 25 years have passed since Raymond began her initial mission. Her passion to connect America and Ukraine is just as strong but now everyday items are needed more than music.
Since Russians began attacking Ukraine in February 2022, 9,083 civilians have died and 15,779 have suffered injuries as of June 18, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Raymond’s new mission is assisting Bodin with her relief efforts. The items they are collecting have a practical purpose, but Raymond believes they also give Ukranians hope.
“They still have lives, they deserve this,” she said. “If we help them, they know they are not alone.”
Friends living in Ukraine tell Raymond they live in a constant state of fear and stress as they watch the fighting unfold. They fear for their lives and their country’s culture.
“They don’t know if they will wake up tomorrow,” she said. “If they do, they don’t know what they will need.”
How to help Ukraine aid
Raymond and Bodin have shipped many items to Ukraine and are storing boxes full of supplies. They are working with Meest-America, a freight-delivery service that specializes in shipping goods to Ukraine. “Meest” is Ukrainian for bridge. Meest has shifted its focus to helping Ukraine since the invasion began, according to a New York Times article.
Right now, donations to cover shipping costs are Raymond and Bodin’s biggest need. Those wishing to help can do so by mailing checks payable to Meest Shipping to: EOPCC Fundraising, attn. Ukraine effort, P. O. Box 291, Emmitsburg, MD 21727—0291.Read about Gettysburg residents’ efforts to help León, Nicaragua
Alex J. Hayes, Editor, has spent almost two decades in the Adams County news business. He is heavily involved in the community through his volunteer roles at the Rotary Club of Gettysburg, Saint Francis Xavier Catholic Church, United Way of Adams County, and Healthy Adams County. Alex is also a freelance writer for several other publications in South Central Pennsylvania.
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