Pay it Forward: Robert Grede delivers $26,000 in medical supplies to Ukraine military through Rotary International

Grede (fifth from left) and Rotary volunteers unload boxes of medical supplies in Jaroslow, Poland, near the Ukraine border.
Grede (fifth from left) and Rotary volunteers unload boxes of medical supplies in Jaroslow, Poland, near the Ukraine border.

Last updated on October 26th, 2022 at 04:56 pm

Months into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Robert Grede made it his mission to meet a need for critical first aid supplies for the Ukrainian military and injured civilians. 

Upon learning that medical supplies and volunteers were in short supply, Grede recruited two friends to join him in an effort to fundraise, purchase and ensure that necessary supplies were delivered to Ukraine’s front line.  

“Twenty-five percent of humanitarian aid coming in from the West lands on the black market, it just does not get to where it’s supposed to, and I wanted to be able to assure my donors that 100% of what they donated was going to land at the front line and help the people who needed it most,” said Grede. 

Leveraging his membership in Rotary International, Grede made contact with fellow Rotarians in eastern Poland, including Zbigniew Dziedzic, the district governor of the Rotary Club of Jaroslow, Poland, who helped connect him with two Rotary clubs in Ukraine. 

In May, the trio flew into Vienna, Austria, where they rented a box truck and loaded nine suitcases – filled with everything from syringes and energy bars to feminine hygiene products and Israeli compression bandages – seven boxes of military clothing and three, six-foot-tall pallets of medical supplies purchased in Vienna. Then, they drove 10 hours north to the eastern border of Poland and Ukraine, where they handed the supplies off to two Ukrainian Rotary members who were responsible for delivering the supplies directly to military medics in Bakhmut. 

All told, $15,200 in medical supplies was delivered to the Ukraine military, with an additional $4,400 in supplies delivered to refugees in Poland. Grede and his two friends covered all their own travel and personal expenses. 

Grede made a second voyage in September, this time delivering $6,000 in medical supplies. As the war drags on and other events dominate the news cycle, it no longer makes front-page headlines. As a result, donations have slowed to a trickle, said Grede. 

Still, he continues to fundraise – through donations and potential grant funding from Rotary – in hopes of returning. 

In the meantime, Grede has set up a website through Amazon where people can purchase a specific item, such as a package of tourniquets, compression bandages or burn gel, to be shipped via Amazon directly to Grede’s Rotary contacts in Jaroslow and then delivered to the front line. For context, a $100 donation buys 64 individual burn gel dressings; $50 buys 14 combat tourniquets; and $40 buys six Israeli compression bandages.

For Grede, who is now semi-retired, he said the mission is all about giving back. 

“I’m lucky, I was born in the United States, and I was born free,” he said. “… I was born with an education, and I was born with the means to be able to help people. So, now that I have the time and the means and the passion, I want to exercise that. I want to make my life count.”

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Maredithe has covered retail, restaurants, entertainment and tourism since 2018. Her duties as associate editor include copy editing, page proofing and managing work flow. Meyer earned a degree in journalism from Marquette University and still enjoys attending men’s basketball games to cheer on the Golden Eagles. Also in her free time, Meyer coaches high school field hockey and loves trying out new restaurants in Milwaukee.

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