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A Latino bakery owner wants to keep people fed in Ukraine

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Submitted
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Manolo Betancur
Materials arrive earlier this year at Хатинка Пекаря bakery in Bucha, Ukraine, to rebuild a wood-fired oven damaged by a bomb blast.

This story was produced through a collaboration between WFAE and La Noticia. You can read it in Spanish at La Noticia. Puedes leer la nota en español en La Noticia.

Charlotte bakery owner Manolo Betancur will travel next week to Ukraine, where he plans to help a war-stricken bakery prepare for winter.

When the Russian invasion of Ukraine began earlier this year, Betancur, formerly a member of the Colombian military, wanted to enlist to fight for Ukraine.

However, as an established business owner, that wasn’t a viable option. So Betancur, the founder of Manolo’s Latin Bakery in east Charlotte, decided to help feed people instead.

“I think the most important thing in any war is to keep the spirit alive. And in order for you to keep it alive, you need to have a full stomach,” he said. “As long as you have grain, salt and water, you can have bread. You have a full belly and your spirit is alive. So, that's how my philosophy started.”

Through online research and a contact in Poland, he connected with Хатинка Пекаря bakery in Bucha, Ukraine. The business, known in English as the Baker’s Hut, has been working to provide free bread during the war. But their facility sustained bomb-blast damage to its walls and wood-fired oven during the Russian invasion.

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Submitted
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Manolo Betancur
Manolo Betancur has spent much of the year fundraising to help a bakery in Ukraine provide free bread to its community.

“I needed to let them know that they are not by themselves. There are people in Charlotte, North Carolina, and the United States that are thinking about them and caring about them,” he said.

Earlier this year, Betancur raised funds to donate a new oven to the bakery, which has been distributing up to 300 free loaves of bread a day. Now, Betancur plans to travel to the Bucha bakery and honor his promise to secure a delivery van and electric generators.

“I'm not going to be the one who is going to break that promise to them,” Betancur said. “So, no matter what, those $5,000 are going to be delivered.”

Betancur will travel to Poland first and then cross over to Ukraine. At night, he plans to shelter at a local church and during the day, he will work at the bakery.

He says he is still working to reach his $5,000 fundraising goal before he departs next week.

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Kayla Young is a Report for America corps member covering issues involving race, equity, and immigration for WFAE and La Noticia, an independent Spanish-language news organization based in Charlotte. Major support for WFAE's Race & Equity Team comes from Novant Health and Wells Fargo.