Tag Archives: Brian Mayer

Roundup: Back-To-School Help, Online Returns, Hate Incidents …

If it’s August, it must be back-to-school time.

Which means, it’s time to help local youngsters whose parents can’t afford all the bells and whistles — or perhaps even notebooks and pencils — that their kids need.

Not to mention, after-school childcare.

Last year, Westport’s Department of Human Services helped 115 children from 70 families with back-to-school needs. They also provided 15 children with financial assistance to participate in programs while their parents were at work.

Human Services seeks Walmart gift cards to allow families to shop for essentials. Monetary donations provide access to after-school programs. Both are tax-deductibel.

Donations can be made online. Click here; then click on “Family to Family Programs – Seasonal Program – Back to School.” Checks can be made payable to the “Town of Westport/DHS Family Programs,” and sent to Human Services, 110 Myrtle Ave Westport, CT  06880.

If you or someone you know requires assistance, call 203-341-1050 or email humansrv@westportct.gov. All calls are confidential.

Every child deserves access to school supplies.

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First came the excitement of Lily’s Market. There’s new (and convenient) life in Weston Market.

Starting Friday, Lily’s will offer something else: returnable online returns.

“Returnable” is a subscription service. Members drop returns for items bought online in a bin, at Lily’s — skipping the hassle of printing labels, packaging, and hauling them to a shipping location.

To subscribe, scan a QR code on Lily’s returnable bin. To return an item, email rose@returnable.com with purchase/return information. Returnable processes the info, and provides next steps.

It’s all good. Plus: the first month is free!

Lily’s Market, Weton.

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With hate incidents rising in Connecticut, Stacey Sobel’s appearance yesterday at the Westport Rotary Club was timely.

Sobel — the state’s regional director of the Anti-Defamation League noted that while violence has been minimal here, white supremacists have increased their physical and online presence.

She commended Connecticut legislators and media for their vigilance in exposing and combating hate speech. “We are focused on preserving democracy,” said Sobel about the ADL. (Hat tip: Dave Matlow)

Stacey Sobel holds up a “New England Nationalist Social Club” flyer at the Westport Rotary Club’s meeting, at Greens Farms Church. (Photo/Dave Matlow)

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Yesterday’s “06880” highlighted the volunteer efforts in Ukraine of Westporters Brian Mayer and Ken Bernhard.

They’re hard-working. They’re inspiring.

And on August 15 (7 p.m.), they’re at the Westport Library.

They’ll discuss UkraineAidInternational.org, the not-for-profit Brian co-founded, as well as the triumphs and difficulties of the Ukrainian people as they fight the Russian invasion. Click here for more information, including in-person and Zoom registration.

(From left): Ken Bernhard, and Jeff, Nancy and Brian Mayer, unloading supplies for Ukraine.

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Elizabeth Petrie-Devoll is the August artist exhibitor at the Westport Book Shop.

Eleven works will be on display this month. Elizabeth creates new art from old object, enlivening history and questioning the border between the past and present.

She says, “In a disposable age I reconfigure, repurpose and compose well-worn and often utilitarian relics.

All work is available for purchase. To see more of her work, click here.

Elizabeth Devoll, at the Westport Book Shop.

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Actor Pat Carroll died Saturday. She was 95 years old.

She was well known to Westport Country Playhouse theatergoers. Her 4 stage appearances spanned 4 decades: “Once Upon a Mattress” (1961), “Something’s Afoot” (1975), “Gertrude Stein, Gertrude Stein, Gertrude Stein” (1982) and “Nunsense II” (1993).

In 1995, she directed the Playhouse production of “The Supporting Cast.”

Longtime WCP PR manager Patricia Blaufuss calls Carroll’s “Nunsense” performance “a master class in comic timing and delivery. She made the show fresh, vibrant, and a sellout. She was a remarkable stage presence and a memorable woman in entertainment history.”

Click here for a full obituary. Click here for an in-depth video interview.

Pat Carroll in “Gertrude Stein.” (Photo/Gerry Goodstein)

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Admit it: Secretly, you’d love to do improv.

This fall, the Westport Community Theatre will once again offer a master class in the art. All levels are welcome, from beginner to advanced.

Second City-trained actress Heather Delude will teach both short- and long-form scenic improvisation, along with musical improv. This is not her first WCT rodeo; she’s instructed there many times before.

The class meets Saturday and Sunday, October 8 and 9, from 1 to 4 p.m. For more information and registration, email WCTJuniors@gmail.com, or call Cindy Hartog at 203-858-6993.

Heather Delude

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Problems with the Westport Library air conditioning yesterday were nothing to crow about.

But this guy beat the heat, with a special spot outside the café, where manager Heli Stagg captured the image, for “Westport … Naturally.”

(Photo/Heli Stagg)

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And finally … were there other crows at the Library too?

We’re not sure. We were not …

Ken Bernhard: Report From Ukraine

Ken Bernhard has a very impressive resume, as an elected official and volunteer. 

He spent 8 years representing Westport in Connecticut’s General Assembly, rising to assistant minority leader. He was our 3rd selectman from 1987 to ’89, then served on the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Ken Bernhard

The longtime Westporter has been a board member of the Westport Library, Visiting Nurse & Hospice of Fairfield County, Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce, Norwalk Human Services Council, Earthplace, Westport Historical Society, Levitt Pavilion, Aspetuck Land Trust, Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation, and Connecticut League of Conservation Voters,

Further afield, he has worked with Syrian refugees. His latest project is in Ukraine. Ken writes:

I just returned from Poland/Ukraine. I helped deliver medical supplies, including (tourniquets, compression bandages, catheters, bandages and more.

All was donated locally, to Westport EMS, Colonial and Achorn’s Drug Stores, Walgreens, CVS, and Norwalk Hospital.

The equipment was requested by Westporter Brian Mayer, who has been in country for 3 months helping with the crisis. His parents, Jeff and Nancy, joined me with duffle bags of their own list of requested supplies.

(From left): Ken Bernhard, and Jeff, Nancy and Brian Meyer, unloading supplies.

Brian is a remarkable young man (34), who helps, works and coordinates efforts  in Ukraine each day until 3 p.m. Then, with the 6-hour time difference, he goes online to work at his US office for hours.

He is connected with a  group of fascinating young volunteers (in their 20s) from all parts of the world. They drive supplies from Kviv to the troops on the front lines (round trip takes 40+ hours).

After working all day, these volunteers stopped for a beer. One has been in Poland/Ukraine since the first week of the war. He plans to stay a year. Another drove 18,000 miles in June, taking wounded soldiers to Germany for medial care.

Their stories of determination and courage of providing supplies and equipment, where the government and not-for-profits are overwhelmed, leave me in awe.

For 5 days we met dozens of other volunteers who have come to Ukraine because they felt the need to do something to help. The internet and chats groups are remarkably effective. Strangers connect, meet, organize and mobilize in efforts to bring food and medical supplies where they are needed.

This young volunteer has driven several times to the border towns, delivering supplies. She saw Russian drones overhead, and sped up to hide. She has helped wounded people after missile strikes. She is 25, speaks 5 languages (including Russian), and feels she has found her mission.

It was a true honor working with each and every one of them. The crisis is so much more palpable and critical when seen first hand.

I would be remiss if I didn’t pass along a request.

Mykolaiv (population of 200,000) is a key shipbuilding city in the south. Its infrastructure, including water purification systems, was destroyed by Russian missiles. Most drinking water is contaminated. There is a need to construct new systems.

The group that Brian works with has located a supplier who will deliver and construct small purification systems, each capable of providing enough daily potable water for 4000 people.

The first system was installed at the local firehouse a few weeks ago. Water is piped from a tributary off the Black Sea, and exits at a pipe in the firehouse where it can be accessed 24/7. Each system costs $6,000.

Jeff, Nancy and I can vouch for the dedication and trustworthiness of this hard-working international team of volunteers. For more information, click here. for Brian’s blog.

Tax-deductible contributions can be made to Brian’s newly created not-for-profit, Ukraine Aid International.

The need is urgent. Our help is impactful, and greatly appreciated by the people of Ukraine. Thank you in advance.

Lines of cars leaving Ukraine for Poland. (All photos courtesy of Ken Bernhard)

Report From Ukraine: The Sequel

Mark Modzelewski read a recent “06880” story on Brian Mayer with interest. The Westport native described his work overseas, delivering much-needed supplies to Ukrainian citizens.

Mark — a past president of Westport’s Community Emergency Response Team, and board member for the American Red Cross Connecticut/Rhode Island region — worked with Brian, at the Ukraine/Poland border. Mark writes:

Since my return people have said, “It seems like so much charitable funding is already going to Ukraine. With all the options, where are donations most needed?”

Once I started to look into where to donate money, I was amazed at the number of different avenues. It would have been expedient to pick one and be done. But I was in a position to get directly involved to follow the money, and determine whether it was reaching those in need.  I now know where I would continue to fund.

If you are considering donating, I recommend putting the work of Brian at the top of your list.

Brian Mayer

He works incessantly. Between supply convoys, he shuttles passengers between the Przemyśl train station, the refugee transition center, and the border. The last-minute, critical supply convoys have gone directly to the border and deep into Ukraine, using funds Brian, I and others have raised.

I was gratified to be part of this humanitarian experience, because we served as “fixers” addressing the disruptions, gaps and lags in the supply chain.

Small- to mid-size NGOs on the Poland side have struggled to find transport vehicles and drivers to take donated goods across the border. With heavy use of WhatsApp, Google Translate and Google Maps, the dedicated collective of multinational, freelance volunteer drivers with rented and owned vans were on call and agile.

We organized convoys of supplies transported across the border to the last mile to those most in need (not just warehouses but orphanages, convents and people in bomb shelters). With volunteer drivers among various points in the supply routes, we got real-time reports on transport conditions and the needs of the displaced, which allowed us to supplement the next convoy of food supplies.

Volunteers load supplies.

From my disaster relief operations experience, there is almost always an imbalance of resources (supply v. demand), whether facilities, equipment, supplies, personnel or funding.

There are indeed gaps in funding for this operation. Ongoing contributions are critical, as funding in the initial stages of a disaster comes flooding in and then tapers off, presenting a planning challenge for ongoing service delivery.

Whatever charitable organization you choose, a steady stream of contributions is more helpful to the cause, as expenditures can be managed more efficiently to consistent trends of charitable inflows.

With Brian’s work and the collective work of the transport “fixers,” the funds go to work in a less-flashy and behind-the scenes manner, but with a more effective and immediate impact.

Brian has just established a US aid umbrella: Ukraine Aid International.  You can Venmo @ukraineaidinternational, or send tax deductible contributions to: Ukraine Aid International, 88 Partrick Road, Westport, CT 06880.

(“O6880” relies entirely on reader contributions. Click here to donate.)

A group of tired but committed volunteers. (Photos courtesy of Mark Modzelewski)

Brian Mayer: Report From Ukraine

In April, “06880” reported on Westport native Brian Mayer’s work in Poland.

iThe New York tech executive was there, helping deliver supplies for Ukrainian refugees, and the army.

He’s still at it. Here’s his latest report:

I’m writing to you from one of the countless border crossing lines I’ve waited on in the last 2 weeks. I’m on my way to pick up several more suitcases of specialty medicine from Sauveteurs Sans Frontières. Then I’ll take it back to Ukraine for onward delivery to the east. I’ve gotten pretty good at these crossings, and it helps to have priority access when laden with humanitarian aid. My record cross time so far is 28 minutes. But you don’t want to hear about border logistics.

Stalin said that one death is a tragedy, and a million deaths is a statistic. I thought about this the other day when driving through Ivano-Frankivsk. Traffic ground to a halt for a funeral procession: A hearse was led by a priest and a coterie of singing babushkas, with a young widow draped in black and two dozen family and friends in tow. It was simple but mournful, routine in any other place. But this isn’t any other place.

This scene is repeated thousands of times in every town and small village, every day across Ukraine right now. Wives are becoming widows and children are becoming orphans. People are going back to work to find desks of coworkers empty; so many poker nights are now short a player. And all for the sake of a completely unnecessary war, and a 19th century imperial fantasy in the deranged head of one wrinkly old crackpot in Moscow.

I realized talking to my new friends here that the initial anger and shock that we all felt in the first couple weeks of this war has faded into the background. Anger and frustration are not productive emotions. You learn quickly that it doesn’t help make queues go faster or prices go down or gas become available or goods reach their intended destinations quicker.

Everything on the ground is harder than it should be, but you suffer it because you must, and there is no other option. You push forward because your anger has yielded to something more powerful and more useful: a desire to win, at all costs. A recent column said it best: Putin has to lose. There is no other option.

This is why so few expats I’ve worked with on the border have been able to stay away, even as some have taken much needed breaks back home in Europe or Canada or wherever they are from.

Many have pushed harder and deeper into Ukraine, taking on more and more dangerous missions, following the urgency: families that need evacuation, orphanages that need resettlement, soldiers that need medical care, children that need cancer treatment, villages and towns that need food, soap, toothbrushes, underwear and medicine, all before the Russians close in and martial law is imposed.

Brian Mayer

I am thankful I have a day job, which keeps me grounded and in a routine. After all, I have to be at a high speed WiFi connection at 4 p.m. Ukraine time every day. If I didn’t, I could see myself being pulled further east, as the demands from the front lines are impossible to ignore. ‘

Many of my new friends here quit their day jobs as receptionists and roofers and bricklayers and students and are now routinely dodging rocket strikes while shuttling crucial supplies across the pockmarked landscape. One of my new driver friends told me their joke: “In the UK, you drive on the left. In Europe, you drive on the right. In the Ukraine, you drive on the part of the road that’s still there.”

I’m closely watching how this war is affecting the expats here. There are no psychological services available for volunteers and aid workers, and certainly nothing to prepare many in civilian life for talking to rape victims or seeing corpses or having friends murdered.

When a volunteer Irish soldier showed me a picture of his mates and a Ukrainian family they rescued, then told me “10 minutes later everyone in this photo was dead,” and proceeded to tell me in excruciating detail what it was like to wear the same pair of underwear for two weeks and fight in the trenches with no food, because humanitarian groups consider feeding soldiers to be outside their purview — you don’t really have an outlet for hearing these sorts of stories, let alone experiencing them firsthand.

This is also the reason why everyone’s anger is pointed not at the Russians — after all, we are united in our common purpose against them and, as discussed, this anger is not productive — but at the governments and NGOs on our side that don’t seem to understand the reality on the ground. The governments continue to make humanitarian border crossings a nightmare, holding up trucks for days, especially the empty trucks going back to Poland to pick up more supplies.

Fuel price caps and various other regulations have worsened diesel shortages, and this whole supply effort runs on diesel. NGOs talk about donations going to “humanitarian purposes only” as if it is possible to separate civilian needs from the war effort. Humanitarian aid is useless if the Russians have cut off supply lines. Medicine is useless if the recipients are killed. Most importantly, soldiers are people too, and they need to eat and brush their teeth and have clean socks and underwear. Where is the help for them? And how can we possibly be expected to win this war without it?

I am also shocked by the failure of last mile logistics from NGOs here. I’ve now been at the warehouses of at least 4 major internatonal NGOs in Poland, all with the same general pattern: a supply drop of hundreds of pallets of humanitarian aid in a warehouse given to a project manager with absolutely no budget or even a plan for getting the supplies into Ukraine.

These poor project managers, many of them first timers, are being asked to move hundreds of pallets without trucks or forklifts or money or local contacts or translators, and many of them are even forbidden from crossing the border. How are these goods supposed to make it into Ukraine, let alone to the front lines where they are needed the most?

The truth is, that task is left to the volunteer drivers working here who are risking their lives every day to bring supplies to the front. They will receive no parade back home, no medals or recognition for their work, and certainly no accolades from the Ukrainian government. They’re paying for their own gas and lodging.

Aid convoys have been bombed and volunteers have been killed, and they will receive no military honors or benefits for their families back home. And many of these volunteers are expats who don’t need to be here. They are here because they see this war for what it is: a fight for our civilization and our values. And though diesel fuels their cars, it is duty that drives them to the front.

That is why we need your help more than ever, to cover food, medicine, and most importantly, diesel!

We just established our US aid umbrella, Ukraine Aid International, which means we can now take tax deductible contributions. Please Venmo @ukraineaidinternational or send tax deductible contributions to: Ukraine Aid International, 88 Partrick Road, Westport, CT 06880.

Thank you for all your support. (Hat tip: Nancy Diamond)

Brian Mayer: Report From Poland

Brian Mayer

Kings Highway Elementary, Bedford Middle and 2006 Hopkins School graduate Brian Mayer is a New York tech executive.

But these days, he’s in Przemsyl, Poland. He’s helping deliver supplies for Ukrainian refugees, and the army.

So far, he’s raised more than $10,000 from friends and family.

Here is Brian’s first report, sent to all who donated:

Writing to you from border with Ukraine. Thank you all for your donations so far.

Fundraising is proving a lot easier than sourcing the supplies needed. We gave out 130+ power banks that you all donated in about 3 minutes flat, and those were the only ones we could even find to buy today.

Tourniquets, power banks, thermal underwear (it’s snowing right now in Poland), and most housing in Poland and elsewhere in the EU are all in short supply. I hear 30,000 people are still coming across the border every day.

A screenshot from Brian Mayer.

Thousands of Ukrainians are going back, too. We hear stories of landlords in Odessa demanding rent, bosses calling people back to work, etc. It’s a fluid situation, with lots of needs on both sides of the border.

There is almost no official supply effort everything is volunteer driven. The train station staff doesn’t speak Russian or Ukrainian, and don’t seem to know anything about where trains are going or how to find buses. This is a tiny border town and is completely overrun. Very few police keeping order. People help friends, and friends coordinate efforts from the inside.

It’s overwhelming being here. It feels like a war zone in itself. We’re waiting now for the next train to come from Lviv — it’s already 7 hours late. When it arrives, an army of volunteers from all over Europe is here to help people find housing, food and medical care. There’s a great team from the UK I’m connected with, a team of Russian language masters students who are all here. One of them is putting me up tonight in their hotel, so I will drive back to Warsaw tomorrow.

My companion today, Jonathan, is a Montreal-based Polish-Canadian documentarian who spent 10 years telling the story of Polish refugees from WWII and where they settled (click here for his doc). He’s making a doc about the refugee crisis here and with Syrians on the border with Belarus, where his family is originally from. It feels like both of us are chasing our family history.

On the phone, a former work colleague of mine in Lviv tells me his wife and children are safe in Poland. He wasn’t worried about their safety in Lviv, but he didn’t want his kids to see what was happening.

“This isn’t just about Ukraine” he tells me, “this is the whole world. If you only knew…it’s so senseless.” He says the biggest needs right now are “dozens” of HD tablets of a certain model needed to work their artillery equipment, and vacuum medical systems for bullet wounds.

I hear that people in Kharkiv are running a civilian brigade. They need humanitarian aid and medicine, especially insulin and injectable pain killers. Refugees crossing the border need power banks to charge their phones to contact their families and find lodging.

Everyone needs something different. We’re trying to source thermal imaging drones right now for the defense effort. All the ones in Europe are sold out.

Another report from Brian.

We’re meeting families who traveled for 3 weeks from the east of the country under heaviest bombardment. This is the second wave of refugees, meaning the ones who survived hell and managed to get out. The first wave got out fast and early; they had money and connections in Europe.

The people in this wave all have stories to tell. A woman, her mother and daughter came from Cherniv where the mother’s cancer clinic was bombed. They had to get to Germany to see a doctor. We put them on a private train bound for Prague, donated by a Czech businessman. It runs supply trips to Lviv, then brings refugees back.

Another grandmother-mother-daughter set (there are lots of these; all the sons of Ukraine are at war) is a family of professors. The grandmother taught for 60 years before Covid. The mother is also a professor, and speaks great English. I buy her coffee. We talk as she waiting for hours to buy train tickets. She made her daughter take school books instead of her toys.

One of the few young men I met was about 15, here from outside Chernobyl with his mother. He tells stories of bombings every night, except the few days when Biden was in Poland. His Russian “friends” are in denial that there’s a war on; they call him a liar. This apparently isn’t uncommon.

He and his mom are on their way to France, to stay with a family that volunteered to host them. Everyone has their own story. I listened to a lot of crying tonight. It’s emotionally draining. I have to keep a calm composure.

I’m fielding donations and coordinating supply drop-offs, in between running errands for refugees who need help. Jonathan and I carried a woman’s bags a couple of blocks to get her to her friend’s aunt.

Hundreds of refugees don’t have immediate next destinations, and sleep in the train station. People need transport to the makeshift refugee center set up at the Tesco in town. They recently started offering outdoor showers to refugees. It’s below 40 degrees outside. The government has done basically nothing.

A scene from the train station.

The donations help tremendously. The most serious supply needs will need to be sourced from increasingly difficult (and expensive) options. Prices keep going up. My efforts for the next week will focus on securing and transporting supplies to refugees on the ground, and getting supplies to our partners in Ukraine who need them. I

It’s 1:30 a.m. now. All of the trains have left for the night. They’ll start again at 4 a.m. I got some late-night shawarma for dinner and am crashing in a volunteer’s hotel room. I made many new friends today. Will send more updates tomorrow from Warsaw.

(Direct donations can be sent via PayPal and Venmo to: @bmmayer. Brian will give a full accounting of funds when he returns. You can follow him on Instagram: @not.my.brand)