Sally Naetzker Baer and her son, Willson, packed up and flew to Poland just three weeks ago.
In a grassroots attempt to bring aid to Ukrainians, Lakewood residents ventured across the ocean to Poland and then to Ukraine to deliver medical supplies and military defense items to those in need. The couple also worked with a group involved in humanitarian efforts. Naetzker Baer said 13,000 pounds of military defensive supplies and equipment were delivered to Ukraine through the effort.
Naetzker Baer and his son stayed at a hotel in Poland but transported items to Lviv, Ukraine. Refugees filled their vans as they crossed back across the border. For three weeks they volunteered to help in any way they could.
“We were just moving aid,” she says. “Every time I’ve been to Ukraine, I’ve provided help and gotten people out.”
Naetzker Baer said it’s a “incomprehensible moment” picking up women and children fleeing Ukraine to bring them across the border.
“You go to the border and you pick up, say, three or four women and they maybe have kids with them – sometimes they have a dog, which is always nice because that kind of tones things down a bit,” she says. “They’re just people – it’s almost like you pick them up and go for a little ride – except you don’t. They have a bag with them and that’s it. They come probably from a two or three week trip from hell.
Naetzker Baer said the refugees are then brought to temporary accommodation or could meet family members in Poland. When Russia first invaded Ukraine, things were more chaotic; however, she said other arrangements were being made and networking was in place.
“At first it was 30,000 or 40,000 people pouring in across the country and everyone in Europe was picking them up and taking them anywhere. But now it’s a bit more systematic. she says. “They’ll get in the car and I’ll use my 30 words from Russia which aren’t the best but most of them are forgiving. … And it’s like we’re engaging and going for coffee or something like that. When they get out of the car and I drop them off, it’s reckoning time and I wouldn’t put that on anyone, not my worst enemy. We usually look at each other, and we’re women , and we want it to be coffee. I want to sit down and hear their story. I want to be there for them and be a friend to them and they want me to be their friend.
While Naetzker Baer is back in the United States, she is still actively working to get items delivered to Poland and arranging logistics when needed.
“I’m back in the game and doing the job” she says. “For some reason God has his hands on it because it’s amazing the things that happened in the situation and the things that we were able to do. I believe we can still do it. I think people are so invested because it’s about something much bigger. Everyone is invested in Ukraine because it has somehow become a symbol of freedom, hope and perseverance in the face of all obstacles.
At one point, a delivery of items failed to take off in the United States. By a happy turn of events, Naetzker Baer was able to connect with a company in Erie, Pennsylvania, and these items were able to be transported.
“The bottom line is I saw an opportunity and I ended up talking to this woman in Erie, and believe it or not that night I said, ‘Would you be willing to do this’ , and long story short, I made a deal and this thing just left the ground, I think today, and it’s on its way to Germany and then to Poland,” she says. “Then we have drivers to bring it to Ukraine.”
Naetzker Baer said she is still accepting donations to help with the efforts through her Facebook page or on her website, www.baeressentials.com. On April 15, an auction of baskets featuring various items, including those from Naetzker Baer’s gift shop in Ashville, will begin. The auction will last until April 22 and will benefit efforts to provide medical and humanitarian aid to Ukraine. The auction is a public Facebook group by the name of “Go to auction in Ukraine.”
Naetzker Baer will speak about these efforts and the auction at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church on April 21 at 7 p.m. For more information, find her on Facebook under Sally Naetzker Baer.