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SALT LAKE CITY – Hundreds of Utahns, led by Eli McCann, put together a two-event fundraiser for Ukrainians in need, all within five days.
McCann, a local lawyer and creator of the Strangerville podcast and popular blog It Just Gets Stranger, served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Ukraine from 2003 to 2005. Since then, he has spent a lot of time living in the country, studying its history, and getting to know the people.
When Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, McCann's friends in western Ukraine reached out to him in shock, with the sound of bombs going off outside their homes.
As McCann stayed in contact with those friends, and the Russian and Belarusian forces have increased their attacks, largely with civilian casualties, he felt compelled to help.
On Feb. 27, he announced that he wanted to rapidly organize an event to raise funds for humanitarian aid for Ukraine.
"Within minutes, dozens (and now hundreds) of people have reached out to offer to help and donate venue space, food and drinks, music, silent auction items, etc.," McCann said. "It has been a whirlwind trying to throw two events in five days, but thanks to the amazing support from our community, it is coming together."
The two-part event is called Strangers in Ukraine, and 100% of the proceeds will be split equally between two humanitarian organizations: Ukrainian American non-profit Razom and Utah-based public charity Lifting Hands International.
Both organizations are in Ukraine and at its border, providing people on the ground with medical supplies, food and other necessary survival items.
The events are planned for:
- Friday from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Publik Coffee Roasters, 975 S. West Temple in Salt Lake City
- Saturday from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Cactus & Tropicals, 2735 S. 2000 East in Salt Lake City
People who want to attend can RSVP here.
Both evenings will include live music and entertainment, food, drinks and a silent auction of items, most donated by members of the local community. Entrance is free with a suggested $100 donation.
So far, the items listed for the silent auction include art, handmade items, vacation rentals at a Marriott resort in Park City and a desert house in St. George, Jazz tickets, restaurant gift cards and more.
"We have been blown away by the generosity of donors," said Jolyn Metro, the coordinator for the silent auction. "Donors outside of Utah have even overnighted items for us to include in the auction. It's clear people want to do something, anything that they can, to help."
Equality Utah, the state's largest LGBTQ civil rights and advocacy organization, has partnered with McCann and the other organizers of Strangers in Ukraine to help collect and track donations, both for attendees and for those who can't attend but still want to donate.
Within the first 24 hours of posting the fundraising link, the team raised around $15,000, with two donors offering to match up to $15,000 and $25,000.
"These events will be a great way to get resources to Ukraine, but also a good way to feel some community right now," McCann tweeted Wednesday.