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November 03, 2022

For this NYC runner, family history drives his support for Ukrainian refugees

For the last decade, Eric Hoffert has been combining his passion for fitness and athletics with a drive to do good for others. He’s completed triathlons, half marathons and century rides to raise awareness and funds for issues such as multiple sclerosis, human trafficking, youth education and homelessness. Although already a longtime supporter of refugees, when Ukraine was invaded in February 2022, Eric was deeply moved and compelled to act.

“The refugee issue is really important to me… I have a strong personal connection, my great-grandfather Benny and his wife Sylvia, were refugees from Ukraine,” Eric shares. “In the 1920s, they experienced persecution and pogroms and they both fled home. And the two of them, fortunately, were able to survive and thrive, but from a situation that was extremely dangerous.”

The New York City Half Marathon was to be run on March 20th, just three weeks after the beginning of the war in Ukraine. Motivated by his personal connection to the crisis, Eric sprang to action — he started training and fundraising.

Eric set a modest goal of raising $1,000 in the weeks leading up to the race. His community of family, friends and colleagues responded and in little more than two weeks, Eric raised nearly $8,000 from 74 donors. 

“When February hit, it also kindled a resurgence and a connection back to our family that were in Ukraine and our desire to help and to really see what we can do to help Ukrainian refugees today,” says Eric.

On the day of the race, refugees were in Eric’s thoughts with every step.

photo of Eric's family from Ukraine

“I thought about the Ukrainian refugees, I thought about my own ancestors…and for every one of them, I thought about, ‘I'm running for you. I'm running in your honor, I'm running in your memory.’ And so it was an incredibly powerful visual in my mind that actually took me to the finish line successfully.”

And while motivated to help refugees because of his deep personal connection, Eric hopes his efforts inspire others to take action, to think about what it means to be forced to flee home and what we can do to be more welcoming.

“Imagine if your family was in a country that was experiencing incredible oppression and conflict…how would you feel if you went to [another] country and you took a ship to get there for weeks, and when you got there, they turned you away,” Eric asks. “Conversely, how would you feel if you took a train with your kids through harrowing conditions, bombs flying, not knowing whether you'd even survive…and you got to [another] country and they welcomed you with open arms.”

“I think it's really important that we provide opportunities for refugees to have safe places to go wherever they might be or whatever the conflict is. I can't stress enough how significant I think this is.”

How You Can Help:

You can join Eric on his mission to raise funds and awareness for refugees. Eric is currently training and fundraising for the New York City Marathon which will be held Sunday, November 6th. He raised more than $7,000 to date.