From Smithfield to Ukraine

Published 5:17 pm Monday, March 21, 2022

Local businesses band together to send humanitarian relief

When Russian forces invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, Wendy Addison, owner of downtown Smithfield’s Relic’s store, took to her business’s Facebook page to call for prayers on behalf of her Ukrainian friend, Olena Bohenstiel.

Bohenstiel, who creates the handmade soy lotion candles for sale in Addison’s store, has family in Ukraine. As of the first day of the invasion, Bohenstiel’s brother and his family had sought shelter in an underground metro station.

“Her mother, brother, all of her family is there,” Addison said.

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Now, as the war reaches a grim one-month milestone, Addison and dozens of other downtown Smithfield merchants have banded together to raise money for relief.

“It was just one of those situations where I don’t know what to do … if you don’t know what to do, just do something,” Addison said.

This Friday, they’ll kick off their “Smithfield Cares, A Weekend of Giving” campaign. Participating stores will place collection jars next to their cash registers decorated in Ukraine’s blue and yellow national colors. The money raised will go to Mercy Chefs, a Portsmouth-based international aid organization that has been providing pre-packaged meals, shelf-stable food, water and other necessities to Ukrainian refugees.

“I don’t have enough words to say how I feel right now … It’s really meant a lot,” Bohenstiel said of Smithfield’s relief effort, speaking to The Smithfield Times by phone March 22.

“They are ‘boots on the ground,’” said Karen Collier of The Main Gourmet, a specialty food store on Main Street who will be among the participating retailers.

The organization is currently shipping supplies to Poland to help Ukrainians who’ve been able to evacuate, but they’ve also crossed the border into Ukraine to deliver supplies too.

“We’re really excited about supporting an organization that was close to home, doing something that was physically on the ground there,” Collier said.

In addition to collecting cash donations, Collier will be selling $10 raffle tickets. She plans to pick three random winners by the start of April, who will each receive a $100 gift certificate to her store.

Christ Episcopal Church has already donated the proceeds of its March 18 Open Mic Night to the relief effort.

Also participating in the collection effort is Nansi Strickland of When Pigs Fly.

The group of merchants have also arranged for a booth at this Saturday’s farmers market, which will be held in the Bank of Southside Virginia’s parking lot on Main Street. There, they’ll take additional donations. The booth, like the collection jars, will be decked out in blue and yellow.

Bohenstiel’s Virginia Beach-based Coastal Candle business is also making gift baskets, one of them will go to the farmers market, and another to Relics to be raffled.

“Smithfield’s a cool little town, and we all come together to do what we can when we can,” Addison said.

She hopes her efforts will inspire other small towns to take similar initiatives.

The collections will continue through March 31 and be delivered to Mercy Chefs on April 1.