Protective gear is organized before being packed into suitcases at Dave and Brittany Milligan’s home in Millville. The equipment will be transported to Ukraine.
MILLVILLE – Last week, several family members and friends gathered at the home of Dave and Brittany Milligan in Millville to sort, organize and pack more than 24 suitcases filled with body armor, tactical vests, helmets, first aid kits and more to Ukraine. Dave’s sister, Jeanne Wardle, served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Donetsk, Ukraine more than 20 years ago and has returned home several times after her mission. Now the Las Vegas resident is on another mission, to save lives in the war-torn country.
Through a contact at Delta Airlines, Wardle was able to arrange up to six extra suitcases per person on their flight to Krakow, Poland. Wardle is accompanied by his brother, his wife Brittany and the couple’s teenage son, Davey.
“We take tons of body armor,” exclaimed Wardle. “We worked with the Klyn Foundation and they gave us tons of medical supplies… All over Vegas and Cache Valley, people gave us suitcases, cash donations, items that we need. So we’ll introduce ourselves and find out what’s left to do.
Wardle, along with others who have spent time in Ukraine, have made reliable contacts to ensure donations reach safe hands while working with friends and other charities helping with the humanitarian crisis at the Polish border.
Dave Milligan said that after delivering their suitcases full of supplies, they will stay close to the Polish border and help collect all the supplies needed to help the refugees.
“We could be running to the border picking up people or helping people get back to Ukraine,” Milligan explained. “We’ll just play it by ear.”
Brittany Milligan said anyone who wants to help with her efforts while in Poland can donate to her Venmo account, @davey2brittany, and 100% of those funds will be used to purchase supplies for those in need. Since arriving in Poland, they have purchased large quantities of socks, shoes, underwear and other necessities for refugees living in Poland.
Ben Gochberg and his business partner Nate Buckingham operate Wasatch Pawn in Logan and have helped procure hundreds of pounds of body armor for Ukrainians fighting for their freedom.
“Over the past 90 days, I estimate we’ve sold about a quarter of a million dollars worth of body armor at a negative margin at this little store in Logan, Utah,” Goctchberg said. “This bulletproof vest – single plate front (and) rear plus (vest) – sells for over $1,200 overseas. We move them for less than $400. It was a great group effort.
Both of Gochberg’s great-grandparents are Ukrainian and Gochberg’s wife is Moldovan. The conflict in Ukraine therefore motivates him to help. He said Redemption Tactical, a body armor supplier in Heber City, helped the group acquire the right quantities of high-end ceramic plates.
“I can’t think of too many organizations in Utah,” Gochberg continued, “that have moved hundreds of body armor units across the border through individuals going on trips as than individuals.”
Jason Stout had tried to help in his own way by raising funds and sending supplies to Ukraine, then partnered with the Responsibility Foundation. The Utah County-based nonprofit group has helped donate supplies to Poland and Ukraine, while also arranging drivers to transport people and supplies.
“Right now we’re working on protective gear and slowly moving into medical gear, and maybe drones if we can keep funding.”
Stout had been living in Ukraine for seven years before the war started and was able to evacuate with his family. He returned several times to the country to help with the relief.
“I met friends and other members of the Church (of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) in Lviv. I was actually working with a branch president who told me that one of his members was joining a military unit but no one in his unit had a uniform and only one bulletproof vest. They took turns wearing it hoping it wasn’t their day to take a bullet.
Stout said that in Ukraine, if a military unit is lucky enough to have a body armor, it probably has a 15 to 20 pound steel plate in it. The vests and body armor they assembled in the Milligans’ garage weighed half that.
“We feel better knowing we can do something to help the effort,” Stout exclaimed. “What will save the Ukrainians the most is keeping the Russian soldiers out of their towns. Once the Russian soldiers come in, that’s where the atrocities happen. I feel like the best way to save people is to equip the soldiers who protect them.
Stout said donations are still needed as the war is still ongoing. War stories are no longer part of the active news cycle, so Americans have focused on other things.
“If we can get people to keep donating, we can keep helping,” Stout added. “Our niche, as a small organization, is that we can pivot to all the needs that exist exactly right now in Ukraine. We have people who are friends and have battalions and all these relationships, so we ask them: “What do you need now? And that’s what we’re focusing on. But we desperately need funding. That’s our biggest bottleneck right now.”
Davey Milligan will be a senior at Ridgeline High School next year and Dave is thrilled his son has the opportunity to help those in need thousands of miles away.
“I think it will be one of those experiences that he will remember and help him develop throughout his life,” Milligan said. “He will remember it, much like many of us who have done missions, that’s what helped us and it will be a similar experience for him.”
Wardle said that in addition to sending lifesaving materials, they are sending messages of hope, reminding Ukrainians that they are not forgotten.
“At the beginning, everyone was so keen to stand with Ukraine and everything was yellow and blue. Then, of course, there are new things happening in the news and it’s slowly forgotten.
So she created little cards with a penny attached and a familiar phrase that Americans learn in childhood.
“’Find a penny, pick it up, all day you’ll be lucky.’ So we send them this penny to remind them that they are friends in the United States supporting them. Then it says “we hope you feel our support and love”.
“’On the penny it says ‘In God We Trust’ and we pray that God protects you and gives you strength.’ And of course it says Slava Ukraini, which is Glory to Ukraine.
Wardle asked people in Las Vegas and several communities around Cache Valley to sign the maps to personalize them, letting Ukrainians know they had support.
Stout said those interested in helping can donate at ResponsibilityFoundation.org. He said 100% of all donations go directly to helping those in need. The organization is run by volunteers and people even pay for their own travel.