By Adam Ford and Ose Schwab
It was a tweet that helped Julio Salado find the World Central Kitchen in Przemyśl, Poland, where he spent one week distributing food to displaced Ukrainians crossing the border to Poland.
“Social media is a vital tool to connect and network and find opportunities to help people in crisis,” says Salado, a Malden resident, a fitness trainer and CEO of Fitness Foundry. “I created a post on Twitter in early March saying I am looking to find an organization. That’s all I did.”
A response to his tweet gave him a tip that he followed. By April, Salado crowdfunded $5,635, exceeding his initial gofundme goal of $2,400. Salado then spent a week helping distribute food at the Polish border of Ukraine, while generating media attention to raise awareness about the situation there.
War has waged in Eastern Ukraine for over three months after Russian forces invaded the neighboring country. The war has impacted civilians’ access to basic needs such as food and water, and the World Food program estimates that one in three households in Ukraine are food insecure. Salado documented his week-long effort to distribute food to displaced Ukrainians on his social media.
“Social media can be used for good,” says Salado, who is also known as Coach Julio. Adept at using social media to share regular training tips and videos, Julio also volunteers his time in-person giving free workshops offered pro bono to seniors, those struggling with the effects of Covid, and individuals recovering from economic or housing insecurity. Though Salado is familiar with helping those in need, his experience in Poland expanded his understanding of his own abilities and affirmed the power of people coming together to help and enlisting the tools of social media to make it happen. Salado describes his experience in the following interview excerpts taken from the “Culture Matters in Malden,” podcast hosted by Ose Schwab.
What motivated you to volunteer with the World Central Kitchen and actually travel to the Poland-Ukraine border?
I have a history of volunteering locally, whether it be for food banks or mental health events. Seeing this crisis on the news in March, my feelings were ripe and I posted online that I wanted to be of service, specifically in-person. Somebody reached out and connected me with the World Central Kitchen, who thankfully accepted my application.
How long was the orientation?
Maybe 5 minutes? They had awesome logistics, and you could really only learn by watching and doing. The processes were incredibly efficient, and the kitchen I was at produced over 160,000 meals a day. One kitchen, making that many meals in one day.
Were there a lot of countries represented by the volunteers?
If you want to see humanity at its best, go to a crisis. There were volunteers from the U.S. and all across Europe here with me. There was this group from Northern Europe, and they drove all the way to the Ukraine border in a vehicle just stuffed with toys. It was probably close to a thousand people at the kitchen a day, all serving with me.
Can you describe your interactions with the people you served?
The most important thing in situations like these is to give respect and dignity. I’ve been on the receiving end before, so I feel like I have special experience. These displaced people were probably going to coffee shops and school less than a week ago, and now they’re in front of World Central Kitchen with their whole family. So I tried to be as cordial and friendly as possible. Sometimes they’d point at dishes as if to signal, “Can I have one?” I’d reply, “Take as much as you want.”
The kids there, they look just like kids from Malden. The younger ones would practice their English, always saying “Hey, good morning!” One kid, Eli, I would exchange hi’s with, and one day he came up to me and said “Wish me good luck, I’m leaving today. Thank you so much.” He went onto the bus to the next transitional station, I felt as if his thanks to me was a thanks to all of our efforts.
What were the families like?
Everybody was working together to help one another. There was no crying, as parents wanted to look strong for their kids. Not saying they weren’t crying internally, but they were showing great resilience.
What’s a key takeaway from your time on the border?
You can lose everything that you hold material wise, that can happen to anybody. Fortunately the world has good people, people who can help you get back on your feet. Through helping others in need, you can really gain a better perspective on life.
How can others help situations like these?
Me personally, I have the ability to do this internationally, and I’ll be using my EMT training and Spanish speaking to help a similar organization in Mexico. For others who don’t have the time, they can help monetarily, or even socially. The attention span of the public just goes so fast. Even by just sharing posts and links to donate to organizations, you can keep this issue known.
Is there any encouragement or advice you have for the public?
You can make a difference. Sometimes people want to help but don’t know how to help. They can reach out to me or Google.
Never minimize your small contribution. That adds up a lot. If you are thinking about it. Do it. It is worth it.
You can make it known on social media and you will get replies. People recognize a good heart, a good spirit and good intentions, and there will be opportunities coming your way.