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Southern Maine chef going to Poland to cook for Ukrainian refugees

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World Central Kitchen
A volunteer prepares food for Ukrainian refugees.

Southern Maine chef Christian Hayes will travel to Poland next week. When he arrives in a town near the border with Ukraine, he'll join other chefs who are helping to feed the many refugees who have fled the Russian invasion on their country.

Hayes owns restaurants in Yarmouth and a catering service. In an interview with Morning Edition Host Irwin Gratz, he said that was spurred to act by his long association with the nonprofit group World Central Kitchen, which is organizing the effort.

This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.

Hayes: And that sort of created this pretty obvious conduit to an opportunity for me to do something other than send money or thoughts and prayers. It was just like this direct conduit to being able to help. And once I saw that, a switch flipped, and it's a really hard switch to flip back at that point.

Gratz: So what is your plan?

I am a registered volunteer with WCK. And so what that means is on the back end, in my portal, I can sign up for, you know, shifts. I bought a ticket, found a extremely small place to stay with just a bed and a shower, booked both those. Fly into Krakow and get down to Przemysl, which is a small town on the border, a small city. And I'll show up there and find a field kitchen and go to work.

What kinds of things would you think you would be serving?

There's definitely a lot of hot soup going out, bread. Besides that, I'm not quite sure. It's nice that there's a lot of people showing up down there with the Chef's for Ukraine campaign that have that acumen, that something can be thrown at them, and they can organize the effort to prepare and, you know, distribute that food.

And in addition to that, you're also trying to raise some money as well.

I didn't want to make it about me and I didn't want to post that I was going over there. But I thought I might as well post about the organization and tell people about that. And World Central Kitchen has a donate button right on the front home page. And so I was a little naïve in thinking that the reaction wouldn't be as big as it is right now. It's coming from all directions. And so the one thing I want to make sure is that that donate button is where I can send people to. I'm funding the plane ticket and stuff, my wife and I can figure that out. It's the organization that needs the food. They're shipping in jets of food all the time. And so those are the guys that need the money, for sure. And so I'm just trying to point people towards that.

I get it when you say you don't want it necessarily be about you, but people I think are always interested to know what motivates people to take that extra step, to actually leave home, fly across the ocean to spend a week-and-a-half doing things for people you don't know and will probably never see again.

That's a loaded question, and I'm not even sure if I know the answer to it. Obviously it's like an emotional response when you see people suffering. And I think it's just the fact that there was a conduit to helping let people know that there are people who care. And if I can be a part of it, then I'm in.