COMMERCIAL-NEWS | ROBERT TOMLINSON - The Three Rivers Rotary Club raised $25,000 for Ukrainian relief efforts thanks to club members and other local entities.COMMERCIAL-NEWS | ROBERT TOMLINSON - Three Rivers Rotary President Jeff Middleton (right) shakes hands with Three Rivers Rotarian Phil Hoffine (left) following Hoffine receiving a Paul Harris Award for his $5,000 initial donation to the club’s Ukraine relief efforts.

TR Rotary raises $25k for Ukraine relief efforts

THREE RIVERS — The Three Rivers Rotary Club celebrated a successful fundraising campaign for Ukrainian relief efforts at its meeting Thursday.

The Ukrainian Challenge, as it was dubbed by club members, raised approximately $25,000 for Rotary International’s International Emergency Relief Fund over a near two-month period, smashing the club’s original goal of $10,000.

“It all started with a discussion over a cup of coffee, and a willingness to put up some money, and it’s truly gratifying to be a part of this effort,” Three Rivers Rotary President Jeff Middleton said.

Money raised through the effort will go to the fund, which will distribute it to areas that need it most in Ukraine, as well as to Rotary clubs on the ground in Ukraine and the countries Ukrainians are fleeing toward to help meet needs in those places.

“It goes for food, housing, water and medical services for refugees,” Middleton said. “It’s tax-deductible, non-fraudulent, and a carefully directed funding source for much-needed need in Ukraine.”

Of the $25,000 total raised, Middleton said about $18,528 has been officially sent over from the club to Ukraine already to help with the relief efforts.

The effort, Middleton said, began shortly after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February. He said Three Rivers Rotarian and board member Ben Smith called him on the Saturday following the invasion, who said fellow Rotarian Phil Hoffine would donate $5,000 toward relief efforts if the club would match it. By Monday, Middleton said, Rotary International had set up the relief fund, and the challenge started the following Thursday.

Through their efforts and other efforts by community members to get the word out, other partnerships emerged to help raise the funds needed, Middleton said, thanks to the St. Joseph County United Way and Executive Director Kelly Hostetler.

“Other people heard about it, and bless Kelly Hostetler, who knows everyone in the county, they called her and asked what they could do about it,” Middleton said. “She connected Glen Oaks Community College and also Sturgis High School, who also joined our effort, and are going to donate.”

Middleton recognized Hoffine’s donation of $5,000 that helped jumpstart the effort with a Paul Harris Award, which is given to a Rotarian or a member of the community that has made an outstanding contribution to the community. Along with Hoffine, Middleton recognized Sturgis High School and GOCC for their help with fundraising efforts for the Ukrainian Challenge.

Sturgis High School, where one of their foreign exchange students this year, Vlad Hnitsa, is a Ukrainian, ran a few different fundraisers through their SHS Cares Committee to help the effort. Students made support ribbons that they sold during lunch periods, held a walkathon event, partnered with four area businesses that donated a percentage of sales to the effort, and had donation jars at the different schools in the district. In total, Middleton said the school raised approximately $4,941.67 from their effort. A few students from the SHS Cares Committee, as well as Hnitsa, were in attendance Thursday.

Sturgis High School business teacher Laura Penner, who helped lead the effort at the high school, said in an interview following the meeting it was great to be recognized for their group’s efforts, but that overall, it was “devastating” to see what is happening in Ukraine and was “the least we could do” to help.

“I feel like it’s kind of the least we could do, as far as not expecting recognition. It’s devastating to me that they’re going through what they’re going through in Ukraine,” Penner said. “I was very happy that they let us join in on this, because they’ve raised a huge amount of money already.”

Glen Oaks Community College also helped with the Rotary’s efforts. A student from Glen Oaks Community College’s graphic design program, McKenna Wilkinson, won an in-class design contest to create a button that people could purchase, with funds from those sales going to Rotary. Approximately $610 was raised from the sales of the buttons for the effort. Wilkinson, along with graphic design teacher Linda Walker, were also in attendance.

“We haven’t gotten into too much fundraising in the past, but the college was super-supporting,” Walker said. “We had a table on the concourse, and all sorts of talk about it in the last month or so.”

The St. Joseph County United Way also received online donations via PayPal to supplement the effort, approximately $350. Hostetler said it was a great thing to help out the club in their efforts.

“I’ve been a Rotary member since 1998, and I’m a past president, so Rotary has a very large portion of my heart, so helping them to be able to do this just means a lot as a member,” Hostetler said.

Middleton thanked Hostetler, GOCC, Sturgis High School and the club for their efforts in donating and coordinating the fundraising effort.

“Thank you all for your donations, and thank you all for your willingness to participate,” Middleton said.

Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 ext. 22 or robert@threeriversnews.com.

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