‘They all come together:’ Lake County community helps Ukrainian woman bring mother to Central Florida

Painting sunflowers became a sign of support

LAKE COUNTY, Fla. – Anna Samson recalls the heart wrenching conversation she had with her mother after the war in Ukraine began.

“I was just pleading with my mother, ‘Please mom, can you please, please can you leave?’” the 32-year-old Montverde resident said. “The first thing we thought: how do we get my family out?”

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Samson said she wanted to wait and see if the situation would get better before bringing her mother to Central Florida. But the crisis worsened as the weeks went by.

“She kept saying, ‘Well, when it’s time,’ and I’m like, ‘It’s time now,’” said Kalena Meyers, a community member and the director of events for Montverde Academy.

Samson, who was born and raised in the Donetsk region of Ukraine, owns Cal’s kitchen. Samson and her husband opened this eatery in July 2020 in Montverde, a small town in southeast Lake County.

Meyers said when she found out about Samson’s heritage, she knew she had to do something to help Samson reunite with her mom.

“When they found out we were trying to get my mom out, we were trying to fund my family, she said, ‘Why do you have to do this alone?’ People want to help,” Samson said.

The help started with the painting of sunflowers on the windows of Cal’s kitchen.

“I thought that was the first sign that people would say: ‘Oh, sunflowers,’” Meyers said.

The national flower of Ukraine is the sunflower, which was painted on storefronts and other local businesses around Montverde as a gesture of solidarity and support for Samson and her family.

“It hurts when you see somebody else that’s hurting,” Meyers said. “Every small business owner here has just been absolutely amazing. They all come together.”

Meyers said her sister will donate 100% of the money she raises from painting sunflowers to Samson’s efforts.

“Everything is being sent to her because I am a true believer of giving to small organizations, nonprofits (and) local people that need help,” Meyers, who has no relatives from Ukraine, said.

Meyers is also using Facebook to let people know how they can do their part and get results for Samson.

She outlined how people can help in the social media post last Friday:

“1. My amazing sister Carla Lynne Gilbert has generously said she will donate 100% funds raised for any business that wants her to come paint sunflowers, the National flower of Ukraine on their windows in support.

2. Order dinner from Cal’s and consider leaving a cash tip in the tip jar that will go directly to helping pay for the visa and flights once approved. Call in your order ahead for faster service as this is a scratch kitchen and stays quite busy! https://www.calstogo.com/

3. Venmo donations can be sent directly to Anna at @Anna-Samson-2

4. Purchase handmade soaps inside of Cal’s.

5. Pray for safety for not only Olena, but all the families in Ukraine.”

“It feels like every single person here is a strand of a blanket that just covered us with their kindness, with their support,” Samson said.

About the Author:

Carolina Cardona highlights all Central Florida has to offer in her stories on News 6 at Nine. She joined News 6 in June 2018 from the Telemundo station in Philadelphia.