A child carries donated food as the Budapest Bike Maffia, a Hungarian civil organization of biking fans who help the poor and homeless, collects aid for refugees from Ukraine, in Budapest, Hungary, on 26 February 2022. Photo by Marton Monus, via CTK/Reuters.

How donations for the needy in Ukraine filled the Prague Scouting headquarters to bursting in just a few hours. From Respekt.

Two fire trucks, several delivery vans, and some personal vehicles are parked around the building on a corner of Staromestske namesti (Old Town Square) in Prague. Dozens of people are running back and forth. Sometimes they have a sleeping bag or mat under their arm, sometimes it’s a power bank, sometimes a bag of medical supplies, or blankets. Entire families have come here, individuals too. As volunteers ferry the stuff into the building, people bringing items to donate form a line that leads up to the first floor.  

The corner building is the headquarters of the Prague Scouts, the Scout Institute, which on Friday announced a collection to aid those affected by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The Prague Scouts were and are in ongoing contact with Scouts in Lviv who told them that what they need most right now are sleeping bags, mats, health supplies, and charged power banks. “The original idea was that we would fill a van and drive it to the border,” explains Milos Riha, the Scout Institute director. After the first couple of hours, though, it was clear that just one van would not be nearly enough. 

By 2:30 p.m. some rooms are absolutely stacked full of mats and sleeping bags for volunteers to carry up to the next floor. The medicine room too is completely full, and in the corridors Scouts are packing bags of bandages, personal hygiene products, and pills. Donors keep bringing more items to the vestibule. In between taking up bags, the volunteers take a break for a snack in the building’s cafe, and the coordinator of the event is there at the bar. “This is bigger than we thought it would be. It will be crunch time tonight and then sorting out the transport,” Scout spokesman Jakub Ambrozek says. People are driving to Prague from all over the Czech Republic, from Karlovy Vary to Olomouc, to donate what is needed, he says.

Adrian Palme is one of them. Along with his wife, who learned about the event on Friday evening from a friend who works at the Scout Institute, they set out in the morning from Turnov and planned to buy mats and sleeping bags on the way. They eventually brought 11 of each to the institute. “In Prague and in Mlada Boleslav the Decathlons [outdoor stores] were absolutely sold out. Finally we bought something at some random place,” Palme says. Other donors are also talking about sold-out shops.  

A blue van parked outside the building is helping relieve the overloading in the institute’s rooms. As soon as it’s full, the van will drive straight to the border with Ukraine. Sleeping bags fly out the windows and disappear into the van. During the morning the volunteers have become a coordinated team. From just a handful of individuals who originally wanted to load one van, they have become a 40-member team that continues to grow. 

“When we needed another five volunteers, they were here within 20 minutes,” Riha says. The teams in charge of sleeping bags, health supplies, and clothing each have their own leader.

The collection ends in the evening. The Scouts are in contact with the van drivers who will convoy the donations to a humanitarian aid warehouse. They will coordinate final delivery of the donations in collaboration with [Czech-based charity] People in Need and other organizations.

“Then we’ll see what kind of result, effect, and response this will have,” Riha says.

Frantisek Trojan reported this story for the Czech weekly Respekt. Reprinted with permission.

Translated by Gwendolyn Albert.