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Nourishing refugees, broadening his worldview

by Jennifer Johnson,

WCK in Poland

Aiden Dopson ’25 sought a summer volunteer experience. When he signed up for the World Central Kitchen in Poland, he glimpsed Europe’s largest refugee crisis since World War II. 

Moved by the war in Ukraine, the 19-year-old chose the disaster relief organization so he could help refugees fleeing one of the biggest conflicts of his lifetime, he said.  

Children's art

Children’s art on display in Lviv, Ukraine, that depicts their interpretation of the current war.

For two weeks in Przemyśl, a city roughly 9 miles west of the Ukrainian border, Dopson worked alongside dozens of volunteers, many of them retired Americans, who assembled 5,000 sandwiches a day for seven days straight until the next batch of volunteers arrived. Professional chefs, some of them Michelin-starred, created hot meals, and all of the food was distributed to Ukrainians arriving or departing the country.

He also spent a day giving out food at the city’s train station. Most of the recipients were women and children, as the vast majority of the country’s men were engaged with the war. There’s no better feeling than seeing a kid light up because of a meal you made, he said. 

“This experience has been the proudest moment of my life,” he said. 

Founded by celebrity chef José Andrés, WCK first made headlines for preparing food for residents of Haiti following a major earthquake in 2010. Since then, the organization has distributed food in countries such as Uganda, at various spots in the U.S. during the pandemic and more recently in Buffalo, New York, after the mass shooting.  

Chef Jose Andres

Dopson and Chef José Andrés.

The organization appealed to Dopson because it didn’t require culinary experience or fees to volunteer. He didn’t have the funds to travel there, so in the hopes of buying a ticket before prices rose too high, he reluctantly set up a GoFundMe. In less than 24 hours, he surpassed his goal and covered the cost of the ticket and a nine-night hostel stay.

Once Dopson landed in the country on May 23, he faced some challenges. His phone died, he didn’t speak Polish like everyone around him and he walked several miles to find his hostel. But the next morning, he managed to arrive at the relief kitchen in Przemyśl, where he was greeted by Americans who he later befriended.

“They were so nice and so positive,” he said. “They just shared their life wisdom with me, and that was one of the best experiences I took away from the trip.” 

Staying so close to war-torn areas worried his parents. Dopson felt safe, though — on a visit to Lviv, Ukraine on a day off, what surprised him most is that in the areas he visited, the city appeared normal. 

Lviv

Near the city center of Lviv.

“Yet some 300 miles away, it’s total destruction,” he said. “It made my stomach sink — how could it possibly be like that, to be so close but so far away from what’s happening?” 

On Dopson’s last day, Andrés made a surprise visit. He’s just as charismatic as he appears on TV, and it was clear he was tired — he’d been traveling through the country — but wanted to be there and meet with everyone, Dopson said. 

“It was amazing to shake the hand of someone who has impacted so many people in so many positive ways,” he said. 

Dopson encourages others to sign up for WCK or any other volunteer organizations in Ukraine. People are packing medicine kits for soldiers, helping families get through the train stations, language training — and they all need volunteers.

“There’s always an opportunity, you just need to find it,” He said. “You can never do enough. They always need help.” 

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