I decided to go to the Szafa Dobra (Closet for Good), or the Free Shop in Krakow that supports Ukrainian refugees. I volunteered there for 7 weeks last summer when it was housed in an abandoned mall.
The shop moved further out of town. No problem. I signed up for a shift online and then decided to take the tram out there the day before to be sure I knew where it was.
That’s the benefit of having time in my day, I can take a dry run to a new place.
How fortunate that the route was the same one I took every day last summer. I had to catch the #1 tram from right in front of my apartment and then take it another mile or so past last summer’s tram stop.
So there’s no way to explain that I knew what tram to take, but without explanation, I hopped on the #13, and sat dutifully, waiting for my stop.
I rode the tram to the end of the line: yes, it took me that long to figure out what was going on.
No worries. I could ride it back.
I had to do the walk of shame. Exit the tram. Watch it go around a tight curve and pull up to the opposite track for the ride back. Enter the same tram. The one without air-conditioning.
As the tram started its return journey, it filled with people who didn’t seem upset that there was no cold air. We Americans expect air-conditioning; Europeans like it but aren’t bothered when it isn’t available.
I got off early and walked back from the Wawel castle, ran up the 111 steps to my apartment to regroup, and then returned to the tram stop.
This time I was sure to take the #1. In the right direction for the 40-minute air-conditioned ride. Yes, it was a good thing that I didn’t make the same mistake, twice.
It was easy to find my stop, now that I was on the right tram, but tougher to find the shop. It was hidden in a small storefront in an apartment complex.
I knew it was closed today, but just wanted to look around. It was smaller than last year. The whole thing was about the size of kitchen in the former shop. Now the name Closet of Good matched the shop: it was the size of a large closet.
I looked at the postings along the front. There were four different languages. English and probably Polish, Ukrainian and Russian.
Last summer the shop was all about offering support to refugees in a way that included dignity. People were never made to feel like we were doing them a favor, we were helping them get clothing and accessories. Forty-five volunteers, or more or less worked the shop every day.
It was a social experiment in bringing people from all countries of the world to help a population of people who were desperate for help. Everyone felt good to be there, both the volunteers and the refugees.
But the sign on the door was not welcoming. It was filled with rules. Refugees could only come once a month and get – seven things. The number of each article of clothing that a person can receive is outlined, 1 outerwear, 2 shorts/skirts, 2 sweatshirts/sweaters, etc.
I hoped that the rules were not set in stone. What if someone comes who really needs t-shirts? Children grow so fast. They must return every month to get two t-shirts? The tram ride is far away and costs per person to ride.
When I returned to my apartment, I double checked the time that I would volunteer the next day. My name was no longer on the schedule. Someone erased it and now that spot was filled by another person.
Someone erased my name?
I sent a message to the head woman, whom I know from last year. She wrote back the next day. It was a lovely email that basically said that they don’t need my help since I don’t speak Polish, Ukrainian or Russian.
Things have changed in Poland. Many people are tired of the refugees being here and want them to go home. Some have soured on being a good neighbor because the Polish government gives the refugees more money than it gives its own people in need.
I understand how complicated helping can be.
And, hello? The refugees want to go home, too.
Last summer there were people fleeing in a panicked state: many left home with no clothes or supplies. At this point in the war, the surprise factor is gone. People probably have time to plan their exit from the country.
I’ll find other ways to help Ukrainians in Krakow.
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