UCSC alumnus at the forefront of humanitarian efforts in Ukraine

Peter Gelpi helps feed over a thousand displaced Ukrainians every day

Peter Gelpi (left) stirs soup at the kitchen in Chernivtsi.
Ukranian volunteers prepare meals at the refugee camp.
Ukranian volunteer hands refugee soup.

UC Santa Cruz alumnus Peter Gelpi (Crown ’77, physics) has been on the frontlines of humanitarian relief efforts in Ukraine since June 2022. His primary objective, alongside his peers, is to build fully equipped and operational kitchens in towns ravaged by the war and serve meals to displaced Ukrainians. 

Partnering with a non-profit organization based in Romania, Peter Gelpi has aided in the formation of three operational kitchens, one in Chernivtsi, feeding upwards of 1,000 civilians a day, and two in Toretsk, feeding around 100 civilians each every day. 

“I knew from day one that I had to participate,” Gelpi said. “I couldn’t sit on the sidelines. And I didn’t know how I was going to help until I was there. I knew I couldn’t live my life and say that I watched as this unfolded.”

Gelpi spends between a couple of weeks to months between Ukraine and Romania before returning home to Seattle. But even when he is in the United States, Gelpi is working to raise funds to further the work being done in Ukraine. 

He has fundraised over $50,000 for food and kitchen supplies since June 2022.  

“Our mission is to support these people,” Gelpi says, “and to get them back to their lives.” 


Since he arrived in Europe in June 2022, Gelpi has spent the majority of his time in Chernivtsi, a city in Southwest Ukraine hundreds of miles away from the war front. The city has a population of around 260,000 and hosts an additional 115,000 internally displaced (IDP) Ukrainians living in spare rooms, garages, abandoned buildings, tents, and other means of shelter. 

Chernivtsi is one of the only cities in Ukraine that remains untouched by missiles, but the city isn’t resting. According to the New York Times, Chernivtsi and villages nearby are building dune buggies for the front lines, providing homes to thousands of displaced Ukrainian civilians, shipping supplies to the east, and using their proximity to Poland and Romania to bring in more. Gelpi emphasizes that although Chernivtsi is further away from the frontline, the city is still very much a part of the war.  

“On almost a daily basis, we have air raid sirens, indicating drones or missiles entering Ukrainian air space,” Gelpi wrote in his daily journal. “Early in the war, one flew directly over our kitchen and the city but was shot down by a man-portable air-defense system, the debris landing harmlessly in the surrounding countryside.”

Early on, the kitchen was located in the courtyard of a Chernivtsi city council administrative building. In August 2023, the kitchen was relocated to a new modular housing settlement for IDP a mile outside the center of Chernivtsi holding around 1,000 Ukrainians. The kitchen feeds everyone in the refugee camp community. 

“We staff our kitchen in Chernivtsi with individuals from the community of displaced people we support, providing them with regular income and help with accommodations,” Gelpi says.

When in Chernivtsi, Gelpi drives across the Romanian/Ukrainian border, delivering food to the tent kitchen in central Chernivtsi, and then helps prepare and serve daily meals. He helps procure perishable food and materials from the local community and sources non-perishable food donated by NGOs. Gelpi says that more recently, it has become increasingly difficult to gather materials from NGOs, and most of the food is now sourced from local shops. 

Gelpi does most of the fundraising to keep supplies flowing to the kitchens in Chernivtsi and Toretsk. 


Over the past couple of months Gelpi’s focus has shifted from Chernivtsi to Toretsk. 

“The people we have been supporting in Chernivtsi are becoming more independent,” Gelpi said. “Some have found work, nominal earnings, and access to their own kitchens. We are reducing the size of our daily meals and redirecting our efforts/supplies to Toretsk.”

Toretsk, located in Eastern Ukraine, sits just miles outside a current Ukrainian military offensive. The Eastern Ukraine region has seen more violence than any other part of the country. 

Gelpi is currently raising additional funds to support the two kitchens in Toretsk and build more. He has purchased a sprinter van to aid in transport, hired Ukrainians to build stoves, and purchased clothing, more kitchen equipment, and Christmas gifts he plans to deliver the first week of December. 

Peter Gelpi 

Gelpi graduated from UC Santa Cruz in 1977 with a B.A. in physics and earned an MBA in 1987 from the Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania. 

He says that his background in business management has been critical to his humanitarian operations in Ukraine. 

Prior to his volunteer efforts in Ukraine, Peter served as the Vice President of Programs and Operations at FIRST Washington from 2017-2019. In this capacity, he played a key role in providing young people with hands-on learning experiences that inspired them to pursue careers in STEM fields, demonstrating his commitment to shaping the next generation of innovators and problem-solvers.

In addition, Gelpi made significant contributions to the healthcare industry. In 2007, he founded Clarity Health Services, which provides innovative care coordination solutions. He was the CEO of Clarity Health Services from 2007 to 2012. After the sale of Clarity, Peter left the for-profit world behind and took up leadership and board positions in a variety of non-profit organizations focused on robotics and STEM education (FIRST), urban reforestation (Forterra) and jazz music programs in underserved inner city schools, (Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra). He also served on the faculty of Bellevue College, teaching an introductory certification course on the healthcare market.

While at UC Santa Cruz, Gelpi played rugby, is still heavily connected to his former teammates, and often aids the current team in their endeavors. Every year, Gelpi helps host the Rugby Alumni Reunion, where alumni dating back to the first-ever rugby team at UCSC reconnect and play a match against the current teams. He was heavily involved in outreach to alumni for Giving Day 2023, using his fundraising skills to support his alma mater, and helped raise over $46,000. 

Looking Forward 

Gelpi plans on returning to Ukraine at the end of November to continue aiding in humanitarian operations. In the meantime, he has hosted fundraising events in Seattle, Portland, Washington D.C., London, and New York to raise more money and awareness. 

In Chernivtsi, Gelpi aims to open a telehealth program for the refugee camp to connect displaced civilians online with Ukrainian speaking doctors and healthcare professionals from Ukraine and across Europe and the U.S.. In Toretsk, the goal is to open more kitchens. 

As Peter Gelpi prepares for his return to Ukraine, his steadfast commitment to humanitarian relief stands as a testament to his dedication. As he looks ahead to the next phase of his efforts, the promise of a better future for those affected by conflict remains at the forefront. 

For more information on how to get involved visit the non profit's website