People in Presque Isle have been donating food, plates and utensils at the Northeastland Hotel's collection site as part of Maine State Tourism's and the Retail Association of Maine's efforts to help Ukrainian refugees in Poland. Credit: Melissa Lizotte / The Star Herald

When Steve Dobson, a local member of the Maine Tourism Association board, learned about efforts to bring essential items to Ukrainians who fled to Poland, he knew he needed to expand the project throughout The County.

Maine Tourism has partnered with the Retail Association of Maine to launch collection sites across the state, mostly at tourist visitor centers. Since the only Aroostook visitor center is in Houlton, Dobson has served as the sole volunteer ensuring that as many people as possible can donate.

From now until April 1, there will be collection sites at the Houlton Visitor Center, Northeastland Hotel in Presque Isle, Caribou Wellness and Recreation Center, Aroostook Hospitality Inn in Van Buren, Acadia Federal Credit Union in Madawaska and Gene’s Electronics in Fort Kent.

In collaboration with the Association of Retailers of Ukraine, Maine Tourism and the Retail Association of Maine are asking folks to only donate the following items: tea bags for black and green teas, instant coffee, energy bars, canned meat, assorted candies, condensed milk, canned or dry pet food, bar soap and shelf-stable biscuits, crackers and cookies, metal utensils such as knives, forks and spoons and metal or strong plastic plates and bowls.

“It’s important that people only donate those items because that’s what the group in Poland has specifically asked for,” Dobson said. “Anything else, we can’t use.”

After the collection deadline, Dobson will ship all donation boxes to Augusta, where they will be prepared for shipment to Poland. Volunteers in Poland will distribute the items to some of the more than 2 million Ukrainians who have arrived since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began in February.

Dobson has been traveling across Aroostook to spread the word about the collection sites and encourage people to donate however many items on the list they are able to give. Though Dobson said he knows not everyone has the financial means to donate, he urges those who can do it to find a collection site near them.

For Dobson, the horrific scale of the Russian invasion of Ukraine hit home when he saw BBC footage of a mother and her two children targeted and killed by Russian air strikes. That woman’s husband, who was fighting against Russian troops, reportedly witnessed his family’s death on the news footage.

Regardless of where people are in the world, Dobson said, they should do whatever they can to help families who have witnessed and experienced those tragic acts of violence.

“This is a humanitarian crisis. These [Ukrainian people] are in desperate need of help,” Dobson said.