Lakewood Woman Recounts Ukrainian Aid Effort
Sally Naetzker Baer and her son, Willson, packed their bags and got on a plane to Poland just three weeks ago.
In a grassroots attempt to provide aid to Ukrainians, the Lakewood residents ventured across the ocean into Poland, and later into Ukraine, to deliver medical supplies and military defensive items to those in need. The pair also worked with a group involved in the humanitarian efforts. Naetzker Baer said 13,000 pounds of supplies and military defensive gear have been delivered to Ukraine through this effort.
Naetzker Baer and her son stayed in a hotel in Poland but transported items to Lviv, Ukraine. Refugees filled their vans as they made their way back across the border. For three weeks, they volunteered to help in any way they could.
“We were just moving aid around,” she said. “Any time I went to Ukraine, I brought aid in and I brought people out.”
Naetzker Baer said it is an “incomprehensible moment” to pick up the women and children who are fleeing Ukraine to bring them across the border.
“You go to the border and you pick up say three or four women and they have maybe some kids with them — sometimes they have a dog, which is always nice because it takes the edge off things a little bit,” she said. “They’re just people — it’s almost like you’re just picking them up and you’re going to go for a little ride — except you’re not. They’ve got one bag with them and that’s it. They just came from probably a two or three-week journey from hell.”
Naetzker Baer said the refugees are then brought to temporary housing or could be meeting up with family members in Poland. When Russia first invaded Ukraine, things were more chaotic; however, she said more arrangements are being made and networking is in place.
“In the beginning, it was 30,000 or 40,000 people flooding across the country and everybody in Europe was picking them up and bringing them anywhere. But now, it’s a little more systematic,” she said. “They’ll get in the car and I’ll use my 30 words of Russia which is not the best but most of them are forgiving. … And it’s like we’re engaging and we’re going to go have coffee or something. When they get out of the car and I’m dropping them off it’s the moment of reckoning and I wouldn’t put that on anybody, not my worst enemy. We usually look at each other, and we’re women, and we’re wanting 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 has returned stateside, she is still actively working to have items delivered to Poland and organizing the logistics when needed.
“I’m back in the game and I’m getting the job done,” she said. “For whatever reason, God has his hand on this because it is unbelievable the things that happened in the situation and the things we were able to get done. I believe that we can still do it. I think people are so invested because this is about something much bigger. Everybody is invested in Ukraine because it has sort of become a symbol of freedom and hope and perseverance in the face of all odds.”
At one point, a delivery of items had not made it off the ground in the U.S. In a fortunate turn of events, Naetzker Baer was able to connect with a company in Erie, Pa., and those items were able to be transported.
“The gist of it 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 that stuff just left the ground I think today and it is on its way to Germany and then to Poland,” she said. “Then, we’ve got drivers to get 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, a basket auction 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 the efforts to supply medical and humanitarian aid to Ukraine. The auction is a public Facebook group by the name of “Go Ukraine Auction.”
Naetzker Baer will be speaking 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.