By Jacki Swearingen '73
As Russian air strikes rain down on Ukrainian civilian targets such as hospitals and power stations, the need for food, medical supplies and warm clothing grows desperate during the coldest days of winter. Even as Ukrainian soldiers continue to take back territory in the east, the nation’s citizens still huddle in bombed-out apartments enduring darkness and freezing temperatures.
Relief for Ukraine continues to flow from White Pony Express, the Contra Costa, Ca. non-profit and ClassACT Bridge that began to send supplies last year in the early days of the war. The charity is readying about 15 pallets of bandages, warm coats and boots, and shelf- stable nutritious food to send off in the next few months, said Eve Birge, WPE’s Executive Director.
WPE’s commitment has been constant despite a drop in donations as the war drags on. “Fewer Americans are stepping up to contribute to White Pony Express and other non-profits that are sending aid to Ukraine,” Birge said. “People are still left to struggle. They are still left in this same situation they were in before all of the aid started receding.”
With the direct route into Ukraine’s cities that WPE has established with the help of Olexiy Buyadgie, a Ukrainian-American WPE volunteer, the non-profit has managed to send around 75 pallets to the war-torn country since March 2022. The donations, which initially arrived in Lviv, have then been sent to civilians and soldiers in the Ukrainian cities that dominate the nightly news such as Donetsk, Dnipro, Kherson and Kharkiv. This latest shipment is set to arrive when food insecurity is likely to be at its worst, said Birge.
Donations to White Pony Express can be earmarked for Ukraine by using this link.
Contributors can also purchase essential food items on Amazon through a designated Smiles page that lists the items White Pony Express needs. Those items will be sent directly to WPE’s warehouses in Contra Costa where volunteers will load the pallets that will then be shipped to Ukraine.
White Pony Express, which was founded in 2013 to rescue food discarded by stores and restaurants and to share it with those in need, also draws from the donations of clothing, shoes, and other goods they receive from stores and manufacturers to choose items to send to Ukraine. A recent contribution of seven pallets of shoes from the non-profit My New Red Shoes means that WPE can send three of those pallets off to Ukraine with their next shipment to Lviv. The shelf- stable food they receive from other large corporate donors goes to Ukrainians as well as the residents of Contra Costa County.
In recent months the needs of those with inadequate food and housing in Contra Costa have swelled as well. “Right now with the weather in California, the extreme cold and the extreme wet, the last month has been very focused on provisions to the unhoused,” Birge said. White Pony Express has given out thousands of sleeping bags, ponchos, tarps, coats and boots.
WPE volunteer and ClassACTHR73 member Emily Karakashian ’73 said that the annual cold- weather clothing program has had to grow this year to meet the demands created by unprecedented weather in northern California. “Even before the rain started, it was cold in a way that we just normally don’t see, and then it was followed by the rain.”
While the generosity of White Pony Express stretches as far as eastern Ukraine, the focus of this Bridge remains trying to eliminate hunger in Contra Costa County. The charity, which is poised in the next few months to move to larger headquarters in the center of the county, continues to expand its core efforts to retrieve food that otherwise might go into landfills and then to give it to food banks, charities and individuals who are hungry. “We waste 40 percent of our food, and one third of that could wipe out hunger,” Birge said.
Representatives from across the hemisphere have recently been visiting White Pony Express to learn how its model works in the hopes of exporting it to their own countries. Last year White Pony Express helped a group in the Mexican city of Monterrey develop a model very similar to WPE, and Birge and other staffers plan to go to Mexico City this year to promote the model. On January 13 representatives from the Guatemalan Consulate in San Francisco braved the rain to come to WPE to witness its successes. “They talked about how in their country food insecurity is such an issue, and that so many people are coming to the U.S,” Birge said. The WPE model of combating food scarcity might not only persuade some citizens to remain, but it would also help Guatemalan large businesses become more environmentally responsible by not discarding usable food.
Eve Birge, Emily Karakashian and the other members of White Pony Express hope to share the non-profits model with citizens across the United States as well. ClassACT HR73 members interested in bringing this food rescue model to their own communities should contact Eve at firstname.lastname@example.org. Everyone can donate to White Pony Express here. ClassACT HR73 members who live in the Bay Area are also welcome to join as volunteers.