In a classic tale of a new door opening when another closes, one Lehi couple is doing what they can to alleviate suffering and bring hope to Ukrainian refugees.
Even today, some two-plus years after the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, supply chains across virtually every industry continue to be hampered by the pandemic.
Were this not the case, Gina Halladay and her business partner would already have their new virtual quilting store up and running online, HelloCottons.com.
But it’s not—not really.
Similarly, her business consultant husband, Hal Halladay, would be over one-fourth of the way into his 2022 leadership consulting engagement with SoftServe, the 13,000-person software development and IT consulting firm headquartered in Lviv, Ukraine.
Except he’s not—not given Russia’s invasion of the breadbasket of Europe on February 24th.
Instead, the wife and husband team find themselves overwhelmed with the national response to what started as a simple idea, an effort to try and bring a modicum of comfort to Ukrainian mothers and their children who have fled their homes and homeland.
Except that now, that effort is no longer merely a simple idea.
The 500-Mile Bike Ride
It started in February 2021 when Hal agreed to join some friends last summer on a 10-day, eastern European cycling excursion, a 500-mile ride through Poland and Ukraine.
The next month, however, Hal met Sergeii Zabigailo at a Utah event called ReStart Utah.
A manager with SoftServe in its Lehi office, Zabigailo lives in Utah some 5,500 miles from HQ in Lviv.
But when he learned Hal’s summer bike ride was going to take him through Lviv, he suggested that Hal should do some leadership training for some SoftServe colleagues while he was there.
At first, Hal says he didn’t expect much to come of this conversation with Zabigailo.
Yet as the cycling excursion drew closer, it turns out the two of them stayed in touch, contact which eventually led Hal to connect with Nataliya, a SoftServe vice president working at its headquarters, and then delivering a face-to-face training workshop in Lviv for SoftServe employees during his eastern European trip.
Hal’s workshop was followed by a remote, 400-person leadership training via Zoom in November for SoftServe, and everything was lined-up for a yearlong consulting gig for Hal in 2022.
But then the war. Then the invasion.
Hal was on a Zoom call in February with Nataliya and another woman named Maria three days before the invasion, and he asked them how they were preparing for it.
Maria’s response was straightforward and direct:
“We’ve had this tension in our country with Russia for eight years (since 2014). But I know this, if Russia invades Ukraine, we will fight.”
That sentiment touched Hal: “That’s a cool moment. I think back to that (and) her commitment as a young woman who just declared it. … I got chills then, (and) I got chills now saying it.”
As the Russian invasion happened and the war began to unfold, Hal tried to stay in touch with Nataliya, not about business, of course, but simply as a concerned person.
In one message he wrote, “We love you. We support you. We care about you. If there’s anything we can do, my wife and I, please let us know.”
He went on to explain that he didn’t expect to hear from her, but Nataliya started emailing him pictures of her family and her kids everyday.
She explained to Hal that she had fled Ukraine with her younger children, leaving behind her husband and adult son to fight.
“She sent us a picture of six kids at the border, two were hers, one was a goddaughter, and three were her friend’s kids,” Hal said. “And they were standing there … and they (each) had like a Walmart plastic grocery bag; that was the only thing they had in their hand(s). It was heartbreaking for me to know these are kids whose mother I know well. And Gina (and I) looked at it and … it just melted us. We didn’t know what we could do.
“We just knew that this was a terrible humanitarian crisis for these kids who couldn't even take a suitcase. They just had what they could grab as they left their house. And they didn't have anything personal. They didn't have anything that was … of comfort.
“You know, a stuffed animal, anything like that, a toy or whatever. And so we started talking about it, if there was anything we could do. And there were at that point a million children, refugees. It's doubled since then. But my world of business and how that came together in Ukraine now collided with Gina's world of being a quilter.”
Gina and Hal got on a Zoom call with Nataliya and they asked her, “What if we could send you a quilt? Would that mean anything? And she says,
“‘We just want to know that someone cares for us.’”
Later in the interview, Hal explained his feelings and experience in more detail:
“It was curious to me. We’d had a professional relationship (he and Nataliya). We were friendly. We were doing work together. But all of a sudden after the invasion … the relationship switched, not on my account, but we forgot all business things.
“I feel like she just wants to be acknowledged, she wants … someone to acknowledge her and her family, that they exist. That they matter. That they are human, because … the war has been so dehumanizing the way it’s been conducted. It’s not just a military exercise, but civilians are being murdered. And we just realized, she just wants to be seen.”
And so, Hal’s business consulting world crashed into Gina’s world of creativity.
From a Creative/Quilting Career to Leading a Nationwide Charitable Effort
Gina and I met many moons ago during an Introduction to Advertising course at Brigham Young University.
We reconnected several years later when I recommended her husband, Hal, for an executive position with a PR client I was working with at the time.
During her career, she’s worked as a journalist/communications professional, as well as a businesswoman with a particular focus on quilting, including designing fabrics and quilt patterns. She also owned and operated a quilt store in southern California for over 16 years until mid-2018 when she and Hal moved to Lehi.
By 2021, Gina was ready to formally get back into the quilting business, as she and her partner, Beth Hawkins, prepped for the opening of HelloQuilts.com, a virtual quilt store designed for quilters everywhere.
Except the coronavirus pandemic threw Gina and Beth a curve ball as they couldn’t get the fabrics and notions delivered that they needed to figuratively open the doors of their eCommerce business.
So they put their plans on hold, at least until Russia invaded Ukraine and they began to watch the crisis unfold, first vicariously, but then personally as Gina found herself drawn into the horrifying reality Nataliya and her children (and millions of others) were facing as refugees.
Following her fateful question—”What if we could send you a quilt?”—Gina knew she had to act.
“So we instantly pivoted and decided we could do something with the quilting world because quilters are givers, they’re makers,” Gina said. “(So) we started ‘Wrap Ukraine With Quilts,’ and we put it out on Instagram and Facebook and said, ‘Hey, start collecting quilts. We are gonna send ‘em (to Ukraine). We’re not sure how we’re getting ‘em over there, but we’re gonna do it.”
Gina and other quilters started quilting quilts, Hal booked a trip to Poland, and they launched WrapUkraineWithQuilts.com.
[NOTE: Hal and a friend recently returned from Poland where they personally delivered 120 donated quilts to refugees at the border with Ukraine.]
In the five weeks since launching the website and reaching out to quilting buddies and the quilt industry, over 1,400 quilts have been donated from over 25 states across the country, with over 700 already delivered to refugees.
“My initial thought was, ‘If we can get 500 (quilts), that would be amazing,’” Gina said. “(But) the response has been incredible … and it’s starting to go viral.”
In fact, she explained that minutes before she and Hal joined me in-studio at the Silicon Slopes offices in Lehi, they had a woman drive down from Boise to drop-off 114 quilts to their home.
So far, partners have included
- Box Out Marketing,
- Lifting Hands International, and
In addition, Houston, Texas-based Quilts Incorporated (arguably the largest quilting-focused publishing and event company in the world), has agreed to promote WrapUkraineWithQuilts.com and allow individuals to drop-off donated quilts to the next three local quilt shows held by it across the U.S., starting with the July show in Salt Lake City.
Gina also said she was recently contacted out-of-the-blue by a quilter in Chicago who volunteered to be a “matchmaker” to help sync-up donors with unfinished quilt tops with owners of long-arm quilting machines willing to finish the actual quilting process.
HOW TO DONATE. HOW TO HELP.
Individuals who want to donate a quilt or a quilt top can register their donated quilts online at WrapUkraineWithQuilts.com.
Once donated quilts are received by Wrap Ukraine With Quilts, the donor receives an email notifying them that the quilt has arrived.
Each quilt is shipped/delivered to refugees with a flyer printed with a brief message written in both Ukrainian and English that says:
We hope this quilt brings you comfort and warmth. We care about you, we see you and hope you stay safe during this difficult time. If you would like, you can scan this QR code, and you’ll be able to send a thank you and connect with the person who made your quilt. Sending Love and Hugs!
For the record, Gina says they’ve started the process of working with an attorney to formally apply with the Internal Revenue Service for nonprofit status.
But in addition to donated quilts, people can also donate cash via Venmo to the effort, money that is used to help ship quilts to Ukrainian refugees in Poland, Spain, and other locations. [NOTE: This is through the @hellocottons account.]
Gina also said that she and Hal are running out of space at their home for all the quilts they’re receiving. So anyone with office space that they can use, rent free, even for a few weeks or months, that would be awesome. [NOTE: The best way to contact Gina and her colleagues is at HelloCottons@gmail.com.]
Where will this project go?
Gina says she’s not sure, but she and her partners are committed to keeping it going through the end of the year.
But for now, Gina, Hal, Beth, and interested quilters and partners around the country are doing what they can through WrapUkraineWithQuilts.com to help do just that:
Wrap Ukraine With Quilts.
AUTHOR’S NOTE #1:
Several weeks ago we published “Ukraine: My Personal Journey. And Pleas for Your Help.”—an article that contained information about, and links to, over 30 charities and charitable efforts working to help and support Ukrainian refugees.
I share this info above in case 1) You’re not a quilter, but 2) You’d like to help in some other way. If so, we hope you’ll check out the link above from our prior article. Thanks.
AUTHOR'S NOTE #2:
To watch the full in-studio interview of Gina and Hal Halladay, please click here to watch the episode of "Conversations" on SiliconSlopes.tv. Conversely, you can also listen to the interview on your favorite podcast provider at "Silicon Slopes Conversations," such as this link on Apple Podcasts.