November 25, 2022
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Santa Barbara nonprofit sends aid and shelter to displaced Ukrainians

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Kerri Murray, the president of ShelterBox, in Krakow, Poland. (courtesy photo)

As more people from Ukraine are displaced due to the ongoing war with Russia, nonprofits like Santa Babrara-based ShelterBox are stepping up to the plate, hoping to alleviate some of the concerns that threaten the lives of everyday people.

ShelterBox is a humanitarian relief organization that focuses on one of the most fundamental human needs: shelter.

“We provide emergency shelter and basic supplies to set up households when you’ve been displaced by a crisis,” ShelterBox President Kerri Murray told the Business Times. “We’re really working to tackle one of the biggest issues that’s plaguing our world, and it’s this massive displacement of people.”

There are more people displaced today than any other time in history, Murray said: about 114 million people, either by natural disaster or conflicts such as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Since the start of the invasion, roughly 11.5 million Ukrainians have been displaced from their homes, Murray said, and about 4.5 million of them have had to leave the country.

“The problem is massive,” Murray said.

ShelterBox had been monitoring the situation for months before Russia attacked. Murray, along with many members of her team, were in Krakow, Poland, within days of the Feb. 24 invasion, setting up camps for the people who would be fleeing their homes.

“We went specifically to Krakow because this was a kind of a center of gravity where the UN system was organized,” Murray said.

There, she saw thousands of women, children and elderly people fleeing with “just a coat on their back.” Men between the ages of 18 and 60 and weren’t disabled were ordered to stay home and prepare to fight.

Murray said the people she saw “were absolutely in fear, and they had their families ripped apart.”

The 7 million or so people who were displaced and have remained in the country, fleeing to spots in Western Ukraine, have had it the worst, Murray said.

“We know that they’re sleeping anywhere they can: in schools, in collective centers, evacuation centers,” she said.

ShelterBox has multiple programs to help them. The nonprofit has sent thousands of mattresses to Western Ukraine, and to countries that have received the biggest influx of Ukrainians, such as Moldova, which borders Ukraine to the southwest.

According to ShelterBox, more than 400,000 Ukrainians have crossed into Moldova, which is the equivalent of 15% of Moldova’s population.

Moldova is not a member of NATO or the European Union, and lacks the resources to address the crisis, according to reporting by CNN. The United States has pledged about $30 million to Moldova for refugee relief.

Thousands of mattresses are still available to be sent, Murray said. ShelterBox is also sending complete shelter kits, tools, thermal blankets, solar lights, water carriers and cash.

“The number one thing these folks are going to need is shelter, and shelter is the first step in the recovery process,” Murray said. “Shelter is going to be a major, major need and … we don’t know when they’re going home, right? We don’t think it’s going to be anytime soon.”

Before joining ShelterBox in 2015, Murray was vice president at Direct Relief, another Santa Barbara-based global humanitarian nonprofit, from 2009 to 2015.

At both organizations, she said has tried to “channel everything I do in my professional life to try to help these families.”

ShelterBox’s budget for these projects to help the people of Ukraine is just under $7 million, Murray said, about 60% of which has been raised so far.

The goal is to keep getting more support to provide more aid. Santa Barbara-based Yardi has donated $100,000 while other local companies and private charitable organizations have also stepped up, she said.

“One thing I know for certain is that once this falls off the headlines, the private charitable support stops and that genuinely impacts immediately our ability to scale and do this work,” Murray said. “So we have to do everything we can now to rally and organize people around the work of these humanitarian organizations that really fill the gaps and help these families.”

Mattresses from ShelterBox are delivered in Lviv, Ukraine. (courtesy photo)