World Central Kitchen has been effectively mobilizing disaster relief efforts for more than a decade.

Photo courtesy World Central Kitchen
A Ukrainian refugee child receives a hot meal prepared by World Central Kitchen. The Rotary Club of Morgan Hill is encouraging South Valley residents to donate to help the nonprofit feed people fleeing the war.

By Chuck Berghoff

Chuck Berghoff

As the crisis in Ukraine unfolded, I was reminded of my grandparents. They fled Yugoslavia during World War I as enemy forces invaded their homeland. My grandfather shared stories of leaving everything behind and coming to America. He and my grandmother had no possessions, no college degrees, no knowledge of our language or customs, and no family here.

Not long before my grandfather passed away, I was able to take him back to Yugoslavia for the first time since he had left. We traveled to the site that had once been a cemetery where his ancestors were laid to rest, only to find a soccer field in its place. Everything his family had worked for, their home and livelihood, was nothing more than a distant memory.

Through my grandparents’ stories, I came to realize that for refugees of war, it’s not just about what’s left behind, but the long effort required to establish new roots on foreign soil and rebuild one’s life and livelihood. And to honor the cultural traditions of one’s native country while adopting the ways of a new country. The emotional and psychological trauma of war persists from one generation to the next.

As I followed the media coverage of Ukrainian resistance to the Russian invasion, I became outraged. Parents and their children are traveling on foot, without provisions or shelter, in freezing temperatures. People are dying in a war they did not provoke. I thought to myself: What can I do to have immediate impact when help is urgently needed?

I wanted to support an organization making an immediate impact at the point of conflict. When CNN aired a report on a humanitarian organization called the World Central Kitchen, I thought I might have the answer.

I called Peter Anderson, a friend and fellow Rotary Club member who serves with me on the club’s World Community Service committee. We did a little research on the World Central Kitchen and were convinced.

We learned that World Central Kitchen has been effectively mobilizing disaster relief efforts for more than a decade. Their model for humanitarian service is both local and global. They mobilize resources globally and work with chefs locally, teaching them how to feed communities in disaster areas quickly and safely. Their work is empowering and impactful. We also found that the World Central Kitchen has high ratings from Charity Navigator and other services that monitor nonprofits.

We called several community leaders in Morgan Hill to get their thoughts on our idea. One of them was Mary Cox. It turns out that Mary has a relative in Ukraine and she supported the idea without hesitation, as did others.

Next we took our idea to our Rotary Club in Morgan Hill. They not only shared our idea with members but encouraged us to share it with our Rotary District leaders.

Our district has about 4,000 members, so we followed up. The result has been gratifying, and word continues to spread not only among Rotarians but their families, friends and colleagues in other organizations.

Within the first two weeks, more than $21,000 was donated to World Central Kitchen by our District 5170 Rotarians and their connections. And the effort continues.

My hope is that we reach at least $100,000 in donations to Ukrainian relief. And being the exceptional club that it is, Rotary International also has other local and global efforts underway.

What Russian President Vladimir Putin is doing is evil. There’s no other way to say it. This is about more than one man and one country. It’s a global humanitarian issue and we could face another world war if we fail to act. We are the beneficiaries of the sacrifices of our ancestors.

We can pay it forward. Anything we can do to ensure people are able to exercise their basic human rights, to be free to live safely in their communities and enjoy their traditions — is what we must do.

Chuck Berghoff is a member of the Rotary Club of Morgan Hill and serves on the club’s World Community Service Committee. He wrote this column for Morgan Hill Life.