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Bear's Smokehouse Owner Reflects on Volunteering in Poland

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“It’s hard to step back from it because it’s still going on. Every day, I feel like I should be there. I really want to go back,” said Jamie McDonald, owner of Bear's Smokehouse.

He first spoke with NBC Connecticut a few weeks ago. He was on the border of Poland and Ukraine, serving meals to refugees crossing into Poland and had just signed up with World Central Kitchen as a volunteer.

“If I could be here and give them a hot meal and provide even a moment of comfort in what they’re going through,” said McDonald back in March from Poland.

Now, he’s back at home. He said his time feeding refugees puts the world in perspective, and he hopes to go back in a few months.

Today, he shares a message from the experience. He was fortunate enough to have a team at Bear’s to support his volunteerism, but he said there’s an opportunity for everyone to step up in the world around them.

“It’s easy to get back here and get sucked into just the daily grind, and working, and trying to grow the business and not thinking about how there could be somebody two blocks over that needs a meal,” McDonald said.

He tells NBC Connecticut that he’s volunteered with other food service groups during natural disasters like hurricanes. This was his first humanitarian crisis.

As soon as he saw World Central Kitchen set up, he registered as a volunteer and was in Poland two days later.

“Cooking. Just cooking, cooking. We would start at six in the morning and go until eight in the evening,” McDonald said. “And if I wasn’t cooking, I would try to go serve at the borders or the shelters.”

That’s where he saw the most reward, directly handing meals to people that crossed into Poland in search of safety.

Another moving moment was having his son by his side. McDonald thought it was important for him to see firsthand what was happening in the world.

“Just to show him why are we doing stuff like this, why is it important to stand up for people that can’t stand up for themselves,” McDonald said.

He said it wouldn’t have been possible without the supporting teams at all of the Bear’s Smokehouse locations. The restaurants have sold rubs and sauces over the last month, raising about $100,000. All of the money will go to World Central Kitchen.

Having the experience and volunteering with people from around the world gives hope that there is a glimmer of human kindness in the midst of a devastating war.

“At the end of the day, there’s a lot of important stuff out there, and there’s a lot of good people trying to make a difference," McDonald said.

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