June 30, 2022

Chef Jamie “The Bear” McDonald took a break from working his chain of U.S.-primarily primarily based BBQ locations to eat earlier this calendar 12 months to journey to Manitoba and simply take images of polar bears and the Northern Lights.

He struck out on the polar bears — he did seize the Northern Lights — however the journey unexpectedly led him to his subsequent mission. To cook dinner for Ukranian refugees escaping their war-torn nation amid Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion.

And flicks McDonald has been sharing of his actions on Fb have garnered tens of numerous numbers of interplay — aiding to ship consciousness to the realities of struggle.

In easy reality, it was social media that introduced McDonald abroad within the initially place.

Simply after a publish from some chef shut mates collaborating in Total world Central Kitchen space — a global collective of cooks supplying meals gadgets all through humanitarian crises — he decided to be part of the exertion.

In early March he arrived in Medyka, in shut proximity to the Ukraine-Poland border, an internet web page of refugee crossings.

Scenes from the border crossing that McDonald captured.

McDonald, who solely speaks English, was thrust right into a kitchen space of world cooks and cooks tirelessly performing to feed refugees. He was up for the impediment whereas, instantly in spite of everything he acquired his nickname “The Bear” at a youthful age since he was tough and usually beloved discovering out and attempting new gadgets.

“(There have been being people) from pretty considerably nearly each continent in the complete world. From China and Japan, from the Center East, throughout Europe, (as correctly as) America, Mexico, you title it,” McDonald informed the Star, incorporating the workforce may see tens of lots of of refugees every particular person day.

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Even with the language boundaries, McDonald claimed that meals — because it usually is — grew to develop into a solution to be part of.

“Everybody understands meals and an excellent meal. That’s undoubtedly type of an international language,” he acknowledged.

Ukranian refugees taking a moment of refuge to eat warm meals provided by McDonald and the global cooking team.
A group of Ukranian refugees and global cooks eating and cooking together.

Simply earlier than getting the founding father of the Bear’s Smokehouse BBQ chain, McDonald additionally had an extreme connection to foodstuff as a professional-competitive eater, inserting third to history-holder Takeru Kobayashi, at a pizza feeding on contest in Barrie, Ont., in 2013, taking in 32 slices in 10 minutes.

Although his aggressive taking in days are in depth behind him, McDonald talked about meals stays a central facet of what drives him — this time in his goal to help Ukranian refugees.

“We skilled 1 man arrive up afterwards who acknowledged, ‘That’s the perfect borscht I’ve at any time skilled.’ And that’s it for me,” McDonald shared. “Probably the most important facet is that if you can also make these folks’s life superior for a minute or 5 minutes though they’re having, then you already know you probably did your work for completely certain.”

Regardless of these tiny instances of assist, McDonald is pained by what he observed folks in the present day seemingly by means of. He recalled observing babies nonetheless left to fend for them selves.

“These younger kids which have misplaced virtually all the pieces, the trauma that they’re coping with will likely be with them for the comfort of their life,” reported McDonald, who’s a father of two.

A second that caught out specifically was seeing an aged one that skilled not too way back crossed across the border mendacity down on a bench. It was not until later, when his partner instructed another cook dinner dinner, who then suggested McDonald, that McDonald found out the gentleman had handed away — appropriate simply after succeeding in his goal of bringing his partner throughout the border.

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“Fairly considerably the second that they did … inside simply an hour of them crossing the border, he handed away,” McDonald stated.

Scenes from Medyka, shot by McDonald. "Don't shoot! Children on board," the truck decal reads.
Jamie "The Bear" McDonald, went to Medyka to help refugees cook. On his journey, he saw abandoned baby carriages for those crossing the border.

McDonald, who lives in Hartford, Connecticut, additionally introduced his 24-yr-aged son — who is also efficient on the household restaurant chain — to cook dinner and supply meals with him on the border.

He wished his son to see to start out with-hand the “horror of the struggle” and in addition “expertise the act of companies.”

McDonald (right) and his son (middle) working together to cook for refugees crossing over the border.
Apple cakes made by the team.

Simply one of many largest take-aways for McDonald has been seeing how individuals arrived collectively presently. Regardless of whether or not by donations from neighbouring worldwide places and farmers — like numerous numbers of apples which have been was apple desserts and toddler meals — or by the worldwide group, exterior of the struggle area, paying out consciousness and exhibiting solidarity on the internet.

In early March, McDonald established up a fundraiser for Earth Central Kitchen space on his personal Fb. Inside two months, nearly $50,000 skilled been elevated. As of Friday, the fundraiser surpassed $100,000.

“We hope to only do something in any respect we are able to to make their life a little or no easier at that second,” he acknowledged.

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