KENAI — Sunflowers are blooming in businesses around the central Kenai Peninsula — but they’re probably not the kind you’re thinking of. The sunflowers — Ukraine’s national flower — are crocheted, locally and by hand, as part of a fundraising campaign to support Ukrainian refugees. All proceeds go to World Central Kitchen, a nonprofit organization that provides meals in the wake of natural disasters and that is currently working to feed Ukrainian refugees.
Susie Smalley, one of the leaders of the local fundraising campaign, said the crocheted flowers can be traced back to last month’s “Standing with Ukraine” demonstration. Organized by Many Voices, a social justice advocacy group headed by Smalley and Michele Vasquez, the event brought community members donned in sunflowers with signs of support to the intersection of the Kenai Spur and Sterling highways. “Work for Peace,” one sign said. “We support Ukraine,” said another.
The demonstration was in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which drew swift criticism from Western leaders and created millions of Ukrainian refugees.
Smalley said she and others have also launched virtual campaigns for World Central Kitchen. As of 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, Smalley’s Facebook campaign had raised more than $4,000 for the nonprofit.
The organization set up shop at a 24-hour pedestrian border crossing in southern Poland in late February, “within hours” of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, according to the World Central Kitchen website. The group also makes meals available at eight other border crossings around Ukraine as well as supporting local restaurants in Odessa, Lviv and Kyiv.
Smalley said Tuesday that fundraising for groups already working in Ukraine empowers people locally to offer support and makes the process more accessible.
“People need to know ways to give,” Smalley said Tuesday. “Not everyone is connected.”
Working with artist Jenn Ticknor, Smalley estimates there are between eight and 10 people crocheting sunflowers on the central peninsula as part of the fundraiser. The flowers can be found at River City Books in Soldotna as well as Already Read in Kenai, though Smalley said any business interested in participating is welcome. People interested in helping crochet sunflowers are also encouraged to reach out.
“It’s just kind of hit the right spot for people in our community who are looking for a way to donate,” Smalley said.
People interested in contributing to the fundraiser can contact Susie Smalley at 907-283-7469.
Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at firstname.lastname@example.org.