COD alumna gathers, set to deliver donated supplies to aid Ukrainian refugees in Poland

Rene Koehler (right) and community volunteers Vickie Drendel (left) and Roxanne Mairs-Hawrylewscz (center) of Naperville working to sort and pack donations from the community for Ukrainian refugees. (Photo provided)

Rene Koehler has collected thousands of personal items for Ukraine, but she isn’t stopping there

Shaw Local News Network
March 26, 2022 at 2:20 pm CDT

Oswego resident Rene Koehler is a crisis responder who will be traveling to Kraków, Poland next week to aid Ukrainian refugees.

Koehler volunteers with Crisis Response International, a Christian organization that deploys teams of volunteers to areas in crises to provide aid and support.

She has collected thousands of donated supplies for Ukrainian refugees in recent weeks from hundreds of Fox Valley area residents.

Koehler has received so many donations that she can no longer accept any more, but those who wish to contribute can give monetary donations to defray the cost of transportation or send donations to CRI’s base camp. Items that are still in high demand include: LuminAID collapsible solar lanternsIFAK kitsMylar emergency blankets, and hand and foot warmers. All further donations should be sent to 2494 Camp Jaycee Rd. Blue Ridge, VA.

Koehler grew up in Sugar Grove, attending Kaneland High School before graduating from the College of DuPage.

She has lived in Oswego for 15 years, and has been responding to disasters since 2010 when she began volunteering with the Red Cross.

While volunteering with the Red Cross in 2013 to help victims of Hurricane Sandy, Koehler noticed another group that was praying with the victims while offering aid. The group was Crisis Response International.

When she returned home, she looked them up and in 2014, attended a training session in Tennessee to see what they were about.

Crisis Response International is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization that trains teams of volunteers and deploys them around the world as needed. They have trained over 12,000 responders to date and have provided relief to victims of natural disasters all over the world.

Koehler said she supported CRI financially at first until she had the flexibility to go on deployments.

In recent years, she has responded to several crises across the country, including the Easter tornados in 2020 in Tennessee, the Michigan dam breaks in 2020, and the Kentucky tornados in 2021.

When crisis strikes, they roll out mobile kitchen units, serving two meals a day and providing emotional and spiritual support.

Koehler refers to the members of her organization as “hope-bringers.”

“Hope in the middle of chaos is instrumental,” she said. “When they lose their hope, they really lose a lot.”

When war broke out in the Ukraine, Koehler coordinated with CRI to find out what supplies they needed and began collecting, posting a list of needs on Facebook and on a Next Door message board.

Koehler said she was amazed at the generosity she was shown by complete strangers as donations came in from community members in Sugar Grove, Aurora, Joliet, Naperville and all around the Oswego area.

Community volunteers Tonya Traverso (left) of Oswego, Roxanne Mairs-Hawrylewicz (center front) and Vickie Drendel (back) of Naperville working in the home of Rene Koehler to sort and pack donations from the community for Ukrainian refugees.

Koehler said several community members she had never met before came to drop off donations and stayed or returned to lend a hand sorting and packing, helping her prepare for delivery.

This will be her first deployment overseas and she is excited to be a part of the relief effort.

CRI has three teams set up to aid refugees, one at the Poland Ukraine border, one in Kraków, and one team that is running extraction missions into Ukraine to help people get out safely and deliver supplies to Ukrainian efforts.

Koehler is currently in need of a volunteer truck driver who can assist in bringing 17 large duffel bags full of relief supplies to JFK international Airport by Monday.

Their teams are also looking for anyone who can help secure a cargo carrier or a mercy flight for their responders along with the supplies.

The teams in Poland are in need of mobile sonogram and X-Ray machines, and are looking for emergency responders, fireman, doctors and nurses to join their efforts.

Those who would like to help can contact Koehler at 630-853-2466.