Balti Distribution Center
The Friends of Moldova decided to pivot. Rather than join other major groups serving refugees in and near Chișinău, we elected to focus on providing services for Ukrainians in the northern, underserved regions of Moldova. Bălți was selected as our new center for operations. Bălți is the second-largest city in the country with the largest Russian-speaking population outside of Transnistria, as well as the second-largest transportation hub for refugees traveling between borders in the north of Moldova. We knew that many refugees would find themselves passing through the city, without other support available. In April 2022, no one was effectively gathering data on the new refugee population arriving in the Bălți; as tracking efforts became more organized (collecting passport numbers for beneficiaries, etc.), we learned at least 3,000 refugees had traveled to the Bălți area with more arriving each day.
Budulai Mişcoi Aurel, known to friends and colleagues as Budulai, has led Moldovan nonprofit Zdorovîi Gorod since 2017. David Smith, the American expat who led initial emergency distribution from his restaurant in Chișinău, has served as a business advisor in Moldova for many years. Dora Ivanova runs a health center near a Bălți hospital which helps people with tuberculosis and other transmissible diseases. The Peace Corps Volunteers who had the pleasure to form relationships with each of these amazing local leaders during their service in Moldova knew they would be great partners to set up a large-scale distribution site in Bălți.
Large-scale investments, including a rutieră (bus) and multiple refrigerators, combined with the countless hours of both Moldovan and Ukrainian volunteers, have helped create a self-operating distribution center where both goods and conversations flow freely. In August, we served 6,600 refugees.
From Smokehouse to Bălți, The Friends of Moldova have always had a supermarket-style distribution system at our centers. We know that folks in need know their needs best; it was important to us that our guests could “shop” for what they needed. Other organizations tend to operate using a “package” system for efficiency. By cutting down on efficiency, our Center volunteers had more contact with each of our refugee visitors. Our Moldovan, and later Ukrainian volunteers’ warmth and spirit of “ospeție” — hospitality — has helped our guests relax and talk about their needs. They have learned that they can trust our medical service referrals and have expressed interest in taking Romanian lessons to adapt to their new circumstances.