LVIV, Ukraine — Corey Watson, 39, is raising money for what he calls pizza diplomacy missions; opportunities to help feed displaced, wounded, orphaned and active duty Ukrainians.
“Ukrainians absolutely love pizza,” said Watson. “World-wide, I believe there's only two countries in the world that don't have pizza.”
Watson banked on that love when he moved from Portland to Ukraine this summer. The former software engineer had learned the craft of Neapolitan pizza-making in Naples, Italy. He intended to move to London to work in a pizzeria but when war broke out in Ukraine he refocused his plans to include humanitarian work.
“I think that pizza is such an interesting, unusual vehicle to fundraise for and could gain a lot of attention,” said Watson. “It's really the best food made in the worst situation.”
The nonprofit provides free pizza to those in need and sells pizzas to raise money for local nonprofits. Watson put on his first pizza event this week.
“They're extremely, extremely appreciative,” said Watson. “You really feel it.”
Watson is partnering with Make it Possible Ukraine, which teaches English to children displaced by war.
His efforts are also attracting sponsorships. One of his sponsors is Ooni, which makes the outdoor pizza ovens Watson uses. He also started a GoFundMe account to raise money for a van so he doesn't have to push supplies across the border on a dolly like he currently does.
Watson said the hard work is worth it when he sees the difference he and supporters are making. Watson plans to stay in Ukraine indefinitely.
“They need to be reminded that they're not alone,” said Watson. “Show them that an American is willing to come here and make pizza for them. Even though it's such a small thing they feel it's big and that's what matters.”