At a time when our society is overwhelmed by rapidly-changing catastrophes, it is easy to fall into feelings of helplessness, or even despair. These feelings are incredibly valid when one considers our immediate access to information and seemingly little resolution.
But, what if we paused for just one moment, and instead of remaining stuck as passive bystanders, we instead harnessed that energy to heed the call to make a difference, no matter how great or small, in someone else’s life?
That is what Jon Amdur did when he saw the impact Vladamir Putin’s invasion had on the Ukrainian people. “What was happening in the Ukraine really affected me,” Amdur said. “I was really upset by the masses of refugees leaving, and I was moved to do something. It deserved more than just writing a check or complaining about it on Facebook.”
Amdur lives in the Crystal River Valley with his wife, Kelley, and their two daughters, Alice and Abby. He has worked as a consultant for most of his professional life. Now semi-retired, Amdur has enjoyed cooking at Kelley’s former bed and breakfast, the Dandelion Inn, and more recently at Silo, a farm-to-table restaurant in Carbondale owned by Lacy Hughes.
“My younger daughter, Abby, started working for Lacy and she helped me get the job,” Amdur said. “I’ve always wanted to cook, and I did cook when we had the Inn, but Lacy got me geared up and showed me the ropes.”
Knowing he was at a point in his life where he could offer meaningful support for refugees, Amdur started reaching out to various organizations around the world. After his first opportunity fell through, due to rising tensions in his assigned area, Kelley discovered World Central Kitchen (WCK).
Since 2010, WCK has provided fresh meals and frontline relief to disaster survivors, while also supporting the establishment of sustainable food systems. The nonprofit has served over 70 million meals worldwide, including 16 million meals to the Ukrainian people.
“They’re doing fantastic work all over the world,” Amdur said. “They’re capable of mobilizing and getting out there to help feed people in need.”
Amdur was placed in Przemyśl, Poland, a city less than 10 miles from the Ukrainian border that has become a safety-net for refugees. “It was shocking to see this mass migration of people leaving a country because of a war,” Amdur said. “Most of them were women, children and elderly folks, who had these dazed, lost looks on their faces.” He added, “The least I could do for them was support their families.”
For 10 days, Amdur cooked familiar Ukrainian meals alongside a team of international chefs consisting of volunteers and WCK employees. “We were doing between 5,000 and 6,000 sandwiches a day, and hundreds of pounds of salad and hot food,” Amdur said. “We were doing probably close to 10,000 meals a day out of that kitchen.”
Amdur noted that on-the-go sandwiches and sit down meals were intentionally designed to increase caloric intake so that refugees had enough energy to withstand their strenuous journeys. He added that WCK also prepared kosher-friendly and vegetarian options for the many Jewish families fleeing the war.
Emphasizing WCK’s efficiency at gaining and handling donated food items, Amdur said that the vast amount of food was impressive. “We were working in a big warehouse, and there was so much space. We used 20% of the stuff that was in storage any particular day, and they would get new shipments in at night and we would just keep going.”
During his time off, when he was not looking for other ways to help, Amdur gathered the courage to witness another atrocity: Auschwitz. “It was so hard,” Amdur said as he paused to collect himself. “The trip [with WCK] was so positive in so many ways … and then I see this piece of dark, dark history and you want to work to make sure nothing like this happens again, and yet you see things happening in Ukraine that mimic what happened in World War II. We can’t let this happen again,” he emphasized.
Amdur’s experience has made a deep impact on his life, noting that the friendships he made abroad will last a lifetime, and this experience has driven him to redirect his life. Since coming home on May 10, he has already begun making plans to return overseas and hopefully continue to make a difference.
“I learned that there are good people out there,” Amdur said. “The people I worked with were great. Everybody was trying to do their best for someone else, and it was really uplifting for me to see that.”