Pallets of SOPAKCO MREs are ready to be loaded in Mullins. Beaufort Mayor Stephen Murray and City Councilman Mitch Mitchell are at right. Photo courtesy of the City of Beaufort.

Beaufort mayor secures food donations bound for Ukraine

By Tony Kukulich

Since shortly after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, City of Beaufort Mayor Stephen Murray has been actively involved in efforts to provide relief for the citizens of that besieged country.

He started with the unofficial adoption of the City of Ostroh in western Ukraine and led fundraising for residents there. In his latest action, Murray along with City Council member Mitch Mitchell, have arranged for the delivery of 100,000 meals ready to eat (MRE) for Ukrainian relief efforts.

“It’s been kind of a wild ride,” Murray said. “It’s been a lot of dead ends and wild goose chases and calling and emailing. It’s been crazy.”

Four thousand pounds of grits and 4,000 pounds of cornmeal from Marsh Hen Mills. Photo by Stephen Murray.

The delivery was made possible through partnerships established with Marsh Hen Mill, SOPAKCO, Total Quality Logistics (TQL), and World of Connections. Delivery is expected to be made by the end of June.

The collection of food donations came in several phases. The first had a distinctly southern flavor.

“The Department of Commerce and Department of Agriculture helped connect me with folks,” Murray said. “Then, Marsh Hen Mill from Edisto Island agreed to donate 4,000 pounds of grits and 4,000 pounds of cornmeal.”

Murray then reached out to Lonnie Thompson, president of SOPAKCO. Located in Mullins, SOPAKCO produces MREs for the U.S. military and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“I explained our sister city relationship with Ostroh and asked if they would be willing to donate any meals,” Murray explained. “He said send him an email, and he’d get back to me. Approximately two weeks later he called and said his company would donate 100,000 MREs.”

Securing the donations may have been the easiest part of Murray’s initiative. Getting 80 pallets of MREs delivered approximately 5,000 miles into a war zone presented a number of logistical challenges. Fortunately for Murray, Mitchell, a retired U.S. Air Force two-star general and retired commercial airlines pilot, got involved.

“Mitch said he would reach out to his military contacts and see if we could arrange a military transport,” Murray said. “He worked the phones for a couple of days and ended up connecting us with Charita Shteynberg of World of Connections (a nongovernmental organization that provides shipping liaison services to distressed countries) and Kathy Cadden of Operation Ukraine. These ladies have been raising money, shipping aid, and distributing it to military and civilian folks in Ukraine through their warehouse in Lviv. They were able to cover the cost of shipping if we could get it loaded and to a port.”

A look at the contents of a SOPAKCO MRE. Photo by Stephen Murray.

Eric Thomason, a team leader at Total Quality Logistics, offered a solution to that problem. TQL agreed to pick up shipping containers in Charleston, drive them to SOPAKCO in Mullins for loading and then haul them back to the Port of Charleston for overseas shipping.

The ship is scheduled to leave the Port of Charleston this week and the relief supplies should be in Ukraine by the end of June.

“Mitch and I are so grateful to SOPAKCO, World of Connections, Marsh Hen Mill, and TQL,” Murray said. “Their generosity will make a difference to people in Ukraine who are suffering terribly.”

Tony Kukulich is a recent transplant to the Lowcountry. A native of Wilmington, Del., he comes to The Island News from the San Francisco Bay Area where he spent seven years as a reporter and photographer for several publications. He can be reached at tony.theislandnews@gmail.com

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