Michael Strauss was watching the news two weekends ago and saw images of people fleeing Ukraine. “Over and over,” he said. “I just looked at my wife [Eylonah], and I was like, ‘I’m going to go to Poland and help the World Central Kitchen, feeding people.’ And she just looked at me and said, ‘Of course you are.’”

Strauss, who owns Mike’s BBQ in South Philadelphia, spent five days at the Medyka border crossing, near the Polish city of Przemyśl, joining hundreds of other chefs who are dropping everything to fly to Poland to work with chef José Andrés and his World Central Kitchen. The international hunger-relief organization is providing hot food to Ukrainian refugees as part of its #chefsforukraine campaign.

Instead of tending to ribs in his smoker on South 11th Street, Strauss stood in a kitchen mixing vats of stews and borschts, and then handing out cups of beverages. The only Polish word he knows is kakao, or hot cocoa.

“It’s something that I normally wouldn’t do,” Strauss said from Krakow, Poland, on Sunday, while waiting for a flight home. “Normally, I would just put something on the menu, give a certain percentage, but I just felt like it needed more effort.”

Volunteers have to find their own way to the relief center after filling out an application online. Strauss booked his own flight to Krakow, and rented a car to drive to the Medyka border crossing near Przemyśl, where tens of thousands of refugees arrive every day.

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World Central Kitchen, which helps in the aftermath of disasters, opened its first kitchen in Poland on Feb. 24, within hours of the invasion. It now serves eight border crossings and staffs centers elsewhere in Poland and in Ukraine, Hungary, Moldova, and Romania. The Medyka kitchen uses 12 massive paella pans and 12 large ovens, and enlisted local restaurants and caterers to supplement.

Strauss said the trip cost him about $3,000, mostly airfare. He said hotel rooms are inexpensive. Strauss said he met locals, who helped with translation, food, and rides for the volunteers, and directions. Volunteers would start cooking in the morning, then go to the border 15 minutes away, to serve. That is where the enormity of the situation struck him.

Strauss’ family, like many American Jews, is from this part of Europe, where national borders have dissolved and shifted for hundreds of years. The refugees are mostly women and children because many men have stayed behind to fight.

The speed at which Ukrainians had to flee was alarming to Strauss. “This young girl I saw was literally getting ready for her prom,” he said. “And then she’s got to pack up and walk for 12 hours to a border crossing.”

He saw Ukrainians walking across the border, where they would receive clothing and medical assistance. The World Central Kitchen is at the end of the line, just before the refugees board buses. At Medyka, temperatures are “5 or 10 degrees colder than just a few miles away in the city,” Strauss said. “People are very cold, so they seem to appreciate the hot meals.”

Strauss was due to return to Philadelphia on Tuesday in time to cut brisket at Mike’s BBQ on Thursday.

Meanwhile, chef Joncarl Lachman, who owns Winkel restaurant in Center City, his friend John Carne (a part owner of The Dutch restaurant), and Russian-born entrepreneur Olga Sorzano, owner of kombucha company Baba’s Brew, are en route to Poland.

Sorzano said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been heartbreaking. She is Russian, born in Siberia, and came to the United States in 2000. “I take it very personal because I never voted for [Vladimir] Putin or never really cared for his politics. I have distant relatives and a lot of friends in Ukraine. I felt really deep sorrow and disbelief and anger and shame at the same time.” She organized a fund-raiser through Baba’s Brew that raised about $8,000 in two weeks for United Health Ukraine and World Central Kitchen.

But after she saw how Strauss had hopped on a plane, she decided to go, joining Lachman and Carne.

“I’m going with no expectations of what it’d be like,” Lachman said Sunday. “I can’t even imagine, beyond the photos and what we’re seeing on the news. I’m ready to chop some onions and hand people hot chocolate and just hopefully spread some good, positive vibes for these people that are going through some horrible things right now.”