Ridgefield-based veterans organization mobilizes to aid Ukraine

RIDGEFIELD — Moved by the ongoing war in Ukraine, some local veterans recently took time to lend a hand.

A humanitarian crisis has followed the Feb. 24 invasion by Russia, with Ukrainian refugees requiring a wide range of physical needs, including household items, food, and a myriad of health and medical supplies.

The Marine Veterans of Fairfield County organized a collection for Ukraine led by John Esposito, its chaplain. He is the pastor at Gaylordsville United Methodist Church, which was also involved.

“When our chaplain told (us) he was working with a Ukrainian-affiliated church to collect medical and personal care items, we sent out a call for action to our members,” said Marine Henry Norley, of Ridgefield.

Esposito got wind of the opportunity through a customer at Ring’s End in Wilton, where he works part-time. An individual who was born in Ukraine was seeking help for his homeland.

“He had asked the general manager, Jim Callery, if Ring’s End would be able to place a collection bin by the front door for ... the families affected by the war on their country,” Esposito explained.

He, in turn, enlisted his fellow veterans to take part in a week-long drive.

“The response was overwhelming,” Esposito said. “We received boxes and boxes of clothes, blankets, hats and gloves, jackets and other miscellaneous items.”

The veterans were equally amazed by the large amount of medical supplies they received.

“It was a great team effort by everyone involved,” Esposito added.

The organization made use of its headquarters at 31 Halpin Lane to serve as the gathering site for dozens of boxes of supplies.

“MVFC member Pam Petti set up the collection site and coordinated the sorting of the collections,” said Norley, who also recruited members of the Ridgefield Community Garden to help out.

“I did the drive because it was the right thing to do,” Petti said simply.

Likewise, Norley was thrilled with the garden members’ selflessness.

“The chair of the board of directors, Joan Wheeler, sent (an) email to the 28 Ridgefield families that have garden plots,” he said. “The response was excellent.”

Ridgefield resident Shirley Wilken is an associate of the Marine organization. She said the news coverage — in particular the visuals of “all the senseless bombings of the innocent Ukrainian people” — has served as a motivator prompting people to get involved.

“It made everyone want to help (in) any way they could,” she added. “If they were going to send another shipment overseas for those suffering, I would love to do it again.”

Peter Killie, member of the Marine organization, pitched in on the effort as well. He said while there aren’t plans to do another drive, this one netted around two pallets-worth of items.

“We did not keep an accurate count of individual items due to the time constraints,” he said, “but it took John Esposito two trips in a fully-packed SUV to move the supplies from Halpin Lane to his church.”

“It was a wonderful way to see the communities from halfway around the world come together,” Esposito added, “and to help others in this world who are suffering and in need.”