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Love letter from the people of Chilliwack goes out to those suffering amid war in Ukraine

Encouragement doled out with supplies in Ukraine ‘almost as important as the actual food itself’
Chad Martz, operations manager, Hungry for Life International, in his Chilliwack office with a map of countries they’ve been to. (Jennifer Feinberg/ Chilliwack Progress)

This story is like a love letter going back and forth between Ukraine and Chilliwack.

Chad Martz of Chilliwack is heading back to Ukraine after Christmas to join his wife, Mary Martz, to continue their vital work distributing food and supplies in war-torn areas.

Their work is through Hungry for Life International, the Chilliwack-based Christian charity, where Chad is director of operations, and Mary is a project manager.

Ukraine, where Mary is originally from, is one of the 15 countries where Hungry for Life is active at the moment.

“We were there before the war, we are there during the war, and we’ll be there long after the war,” Chad says.

A Russian passport is what it would take to be allowed to purchase some things right now in Ukraine, and everything is crazy expensive.

“So things like a razor or deodorant or dish soap are very much in demand, in addition to food, but out of reach.”

One disturbing image that’s stayed with him since the last trip was a street scene where some recently liberated Ukrainians seemed both “so desperate, and so lifeless” at the same time.

It’s hard for some to imagine in the West but many don’t have any food and there are no stores open.

There’s no light, no heat, no anything, he said.

Peter Bernik and his sister Mary Martz sing to Ukrainians to raise their spirits. (Chad Martz)
Peter Bernik and his sister Mary Martz sing to Ukrainians to raise their spirits. (Chad Martz)

“I’ve been part of food distribution efforts around the world, and it can get pretty chaotic when people are desperate, and Ukrainians are quite reserved about it. But this was the first time I had seen people literally running to our vehicles just to receive whatever we had. It wasn’t just food they were looking for it was basic necessities.”

Using the family networks in Ukraine established with Mary’s large, musical family before the war, has been very successful to date for HFL, because they didn’t have to vet any of the support groups or church partners they’ve been working with.

Consequently they have helped distribute a “significant” amount of resources across Ukraine, namely about 1,000 tons of food (more than 2 million pounds) which has helped so many thousands of people.

They bought food and supplies on the ground in Europe over the first four months of the war, to get the best bang for their donated buck. It was definitely cheaper than shipping North American goods.

They managed to complete 650 to 700 deliveries across Ukraine with the help of more than 40 partners, Martz said, continuing to tally their efforts.

They focused on the most in-demand food items like pasta, cooking oil, sugar, canned meat, and buckwheat. They tucked in cheese from Holland.

Overall, the support shown by those in the West in general, as well as from Chilliwack specifically through different types of charity fundraising, has not gone unnoticed.

In fact, it has given many a lift out of a very dark place.

When Chad was photographed chatting with a Ukrainian senior during the last trip, they had been discussing a community news item in The Chilliwack Progress. The story told of how Hampton House seniors had been involved in fundraising to help Ukrainians, just like her.

You could see by the expression on her face how this simple gesture affected her.

Two women in eastern Ukraine city of Kharkiv heartened to hear of a Chilliwack fundraiser held at Hampton House to help those under siege by Russian forces. (Mary Martz photo)
Two women in eastern Ukraine city of Kharkiv heartened to hear of a Chilliwack fundraiser held at Hampton House to help those under siege by Russian forces. (Mary Martz photo)

The kindness was so welcome. Just speaking to folks and reminding them that they had not been forgotten by the world, meant so much, Chad said.

“It shows that people are continuing to do what they can from this side, and to show them ladies of the same age that are in a retirement home who are trying to raise funds to help them, well it brings a huge amount of encouragement.”

They’re living in bomb shelters with no heat, or power, and a very small amount of food. When handing out food and goods, the volunteers will often sing to offer encouragement, or just talk.

This type of encouragement is “almost as important as the actual food in itself,” Chad said.

The consensus of many he spoke to was that they would “just not be here” without the help from the West, whether it was military, humanitarian, financial support, or otherwise.

RELATED: Chilliwack seniors fundraiser for Ukraine

“So I would say not on behalf of myself, but on behalf of the Ukrainian people, what we’ve been able to do collaboratively has made a significant difference in people’s lives like this.”

To those who have contributed or donated to help Ukraine from Chilliwack and beyond, he wants everyone to know how appreciative they are for the help, with a deep sense of gratefulness.

“It seem so hollow of a word to use, but that really is it, being very grateful,” he said.

The Ukrainians who have benefited have been lifted up during the darkest times of their lives.

“It’s so encouraging to the people there and they have conveyed that to me over and over again.”

RELATED: Russian strikes increasing hitting civilian targets in Ukraine

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Jennifer Feinberg

About the Author: Jennifer Feinberg

I have been a Chilliwack Progress reporter for 20+ years, covering the arts, city hall, as well as Indigenous, and climate change stories.
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