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Twin Cities-based nonprofit launches food box project to help feed Ukrainians

The first 10,000 food boxes are now being delivered to Ukrainians in war-torn regions. The program also supports local Ukrainian food producers still in operation.

KYIV, Ukraine — A Twin Cities-based nonprofit is ramping up its efforts to help those in Ukraine. 

A new program aims to feed the hungry in war-torn regions, while also supporting jobs in the country.

"This project has taken a lot of prayer and faith," said Vitaliy Sobko, CEO of Shepherd's Foundation in Ukraine and Camp Maximum. 

Shepherd's Foundation, a Twin Cities-based nonprofit, has been traveling to Ukraine with various mission teams for nearly 30 years. 

"I, as a kid back in 1992, was one of the first campers when the ministry started. So now 30 years later, we continue this work that expanded beyond visits," Sobko said. 

Six years ago, Shepherd's Foundation built Camp Maximum — located in central Ukraine, more than two hours from Kyiv. They do regular camping programs, including ones for kids with disabilities. 

RELATED: Twin Cities-based nonprofit 'Shepherd's Foundation' helps Ukrainians fleeing their homes

Since Russia invaded Ukraine, Camp Maximum's focus has shifted to helping refugees fleeing the war. They have evacuated more than 6,000 people from combat areas; refugees also stay at the camp. 

Credit: Camp Maximum
130,000 food items are already in Camp Maximum's warehouse.

While those efforts continue, Sobko has been working on a project to help feed Ukrainians while also supporting local food producers still in operation. 

"Supply chains are broken. So when the attack by the Russians happened, lots of stores were robbed or destroyed. Businesses had to evacuate and now when we have taken some of the territories back, as you can imagine, the businesses didn't return," Sobko said. 

Sobko said he and his team would travel to smaller villages and see people on the verge of starvation because Russians had taken or destroyed their supplies before leaving. 

"They gave a loaf of bread to one of the grandmas and were shocked because she was just standing there holding bread and just crying because bread is very symbolic for our nation. This is the first item everyone wants to have in the kitchen and she didn't have that for over a month," Sobko said. 

These personal experiences inspired Sobko to start the Maximum Food Program. 

Each box contains about 14 items with enough food to feed one adult for a week. The box includes canned meat, beans, a loaf of bread, bottled water, and more. 

Credit: Camp Maximum
Items inside a Camp Maximum Food Program box.

One box costs $10 to produce; Shepherd's Foundation has donated $50,000. The initial batch of 10,000 boxes cost $100,000. 

"This is large project for our organization and I'm praying we're able to ramp up support from different groups and organizations," Sobko said. 

Sobko and his team worked hard to find Ukrainian producers capable of delivering up to 50,000 food items per week. The reported economic decline in Ukraine is nearing 50%. 

"Thus, we support the local economy, help them continue to pay salaries to local people, and the cost of that food box is way cheaper compared to buying that in Europe and then adding the cost of logistics to get into the country," Sobko said. 

The packing line also provides jobs for the refugees staying at Camp Maximum, trying to start a new life. 

The two-tier program focuses first on residents of war-affected regions residing within a 100-km range from the frontlines. Tier 2 focuses on communities around the country hosting large numbers of refugees. 

Credit: Camp Maximum
Camp Maximum is starting to deliver the first 10,000 food boxes.

The first 10,000 boxes are now being delivered. In some cases, they drop off food to people too afraid to leave their basements. 

"I think everyone is really exhausted. It's a terrible feeling. You're overwhelmed with requests and you can only do like 10%, at best, at what is being requested," Sobko said.

The hope is to be able to phase out the project once the government and larger organizations are able to provide more assistance. 

"Everyone is so confident in victory; everyone is working towards that," Sobko said. "We're sad together but we also work really hard towards a common goal — towards defending our country, towards winning the future for our children, and winning the right to be free and make our own decisions as a country. That's the best." 

If you'd like to help, donations can be made through Shepherd's Foundation, here

Watch more on the war in Ukraine:

Watch all of the latest stories from Russia's war on Ukraine in our YouTube playlist: