BELFAST, Maine — A Belfast woman raised $1,500 overnight this week by selling special peace-themed stickers, with the goal of donating the money to a Polish humanitarian agency assisting Ukrainian refugees.
For Kasia Gardner, 40, it’s critically important to do something to help.
“I have been really involved from the beginning [of the war],” she said. “I used to study Ukrainian language and literature. It is an amazing place with amazing culture. It’s just really hard to watch it being destroyed.”
Gardner, who was born in Wroclaw, in the west of Poland, decided to use her family’s small business, VeloInk, to raise money for organizations supporting refugees. She and her husband, Chris Gardner, started VeloInk in 2012 to make personalized stickers for bikes, helmets, water bottles and more.
She reached out to four Polish artists who had created peace posters to get their permission to use their designs on a new “Support Ukraine” sticker set.
The artists agreed, and the Gardners spent Thursday night making the $10 sets, which are vibrant shades of gold, blue and green. All the funds raised will go to Polish Humanitarian Action, an organization that has been around since the 1990s and has a solid track record.
“I know they know what to get,” she said of the nonprofit organization’s employees. “I think they are maybe the only ones right now who can cross the border and help refugees who are waiting in line for days.”
The Gardners reached out to VeloInk’s customer base and email list to tell people about the fundraising effort.
“I thought that would be the quickest way to spread the word and get the fastest money,” Kasia Gardner said. “Because time is an issue at this point.”
By the time the couple woke up Friday morning, they had sold $1,500 worth of stickers. Most of the orders came from the U.S., but some also came from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Germany and Poland. Local orders began coming in Friday “and they keep coming,” she said.
“It’s kind of overwhelming,” she said.
This isn’t the only way that Gardner has been helping, though. She’s also been translating messages from people in the Ukraine for people in Poland, so that the Ukrainian people would know that there was support for them across the border.
“I’ve been translating really heartbreaking messages for about a week,” she said.
Most of those messages had been coming from people stuck in long lines on the border, waiting to cross into Poland. The messages were “super short,” she said, likely because the refugees are conserving their cellphone batteries. They included information such as how many people were in a group and which border crossing they were at.
But now the messages are changing.
“More of the messages are coming from people who are actually trapped in shelters,” Gardner said. “There’s no way to help them. It’s getting more and more heartbreaking.”
With more than half a million Ukrainian refugees entering Poland since the invasion began, according to the United Nations, a lot of Polish people are doing everything they can to help out. Many are opening their homes to the refugees and donating the food and supplies they need. Her family in Poland is hosting a family from Lviv for a few days, she said.
“When the war started … my head was in Poland with my family, trying to help other people,” she said. “I think everybody in Poland now is in helping mode. There was one day of fear and then full action to help.”
Watching that has been amazing, she said, because for a long time, the Polish government was not known for its humanitarian actions and the drive to help has come from ordinary Polish people, like her and her family members.
“To be honest, this helping really started from within, with the Polish people,” Gardner said.