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Local students plan raffle for Ukraine kids

THREE MIDDLEBURY UNION Middle School students have organized a raffle to raise money for Ukrainian children suffering through the Russian military invasion of their country. Pictured here are, left to right, seventh-graders Isabel Quinn, Julia Morrissey and Kate Kozak, together with MUMS Principal Michael Dudek. Independent photo/John Flowers

MIDDLEBURY — It’s easy to feel cocooned in a safe, rural, caring community like Middlebury. Violent deaths and crime waves are fortunately few and far between. And when you reach a low point, there’s no shortage of caring neighbors to pick you up.

That empathy even extends to strangers suffering well beyond the town’s borders. It’s an instinct that’s being nurtured, with great results, at Middlebury Union Middle School, where a group of students recently decided — without prompting — to help Ukrainian children suffering through the Russian invasion of their homeland.

It was a few weeks ago that MUMS seventh-graders Isabel Quinn, Julia Morrissey and Kate Kozak were drawing in art class when collegial chatter turned to Ukraine. Television and social media have been plastered with the haunting images of bombed-out buildings and fleeing refugees since Russian forces invaded their eastern European neighbor on Feb. 24.

“It was scary and really sad to hear all the stories on the news,” Morrissey said. “My parents would talk about it sometimes, too. It made me want to do something.”

The three classmates resolved to coordinate a raffle, through which supporters could buy tickets to qualify for baskets of neat gifts donated by local businesses. Proceeds, they decided, would go to UNICEF, an international organization that “works in more than 190 countries and territories to save children’s lives, to defend their rights, and help them fulfill their potential, from early childhood through adolescence,” according to its website. UNICEF has established a specific fund to provide Ukrainian children with safe water, nutrition, healthcare, education and protection during this time of immense strife.

Quinn, Morrissey and Kozak decided a raffle could become a local engine for donations to the UNICEF fund for Ukrainian children. It can be found at tinyurl.com/jwtmbxzx. Only 3% of donations go to administrative costs, according to the website.

Around 3 million Ukrainians had fled their wartorn country as of Wednesday, and half of those new refugees are children. That stat stood out to the three MUMS students.

“We want to reach out to them,” Quinn said. “We’re aiming to help the children more, just because we can kind of connect with them.”

The cause is particularly near and dear to Kozak’s heart. She’s half Ukrainian.

“I think it’s the right thing to do, and it’s important to help,” she said. Kozak is unaware of any distant family members who might be in harm’s way.

The students brought their “aid for Ukrainian children” idea to MUMS officials, including Principal Michael Dudek and seventh-grade Counselor Darcey Wijsenbeek. The two adults gave them a few pointers on how to organize the raffle — beginning with soliciting donated items from area businesses to go into what will be a handful of prize baskets.

The trio crafted an email and sent it to 45 area enterprises, including restaurants, stores and manufacturers. They were pleased to report on Tuesday that 13 businesses had responded to the call, including Fire & Ice Restaurant, Route 7 Sandwich Co., Middlebury Fitness and Vermont Book Shop. Quinn, Morrissey and Kozak want to receive all the basket gifts by March 25, for a raffle drawing slated for April 15.

Participating businesses have generously provided gift cards, clothing, tote bags, yoga classes, gym memberships and other items.

Meanwhile, the girls have drawn up a price list for raffle tickets: one ticket for $2, three for $5, seven for $10, fifteen for $20 and 100 tickets for $100. While the young organizers originally envisioned the raffle as being MUMS-centered, they now realize their effort will likely have broader appeal. Raffle tickets can be purchased through MUMS students and employees, but they’ll also be for sale at the Vermont Book Shop and the MUMS administrative office. Organizers are hoping other area businesses will offer to sell tickets. People can write checks out to MUMS, specifying the “Ukraine basket raffle” in the subject line.

And of course Quinn, Morrissey and Kozak will be circulating through the MUMS building during lunch and free time to offer raffle ticket purchases to fellow students and their teachers.

How much Ukraine aid will the raffle generate? The terrific trio isn’t sure, but they’re hoping it runs into the thousands.

Every dollar counts.

“I was thinking about ‘What if this were happening to me, if I were one of the children in the Ukraine, how hard and scary that would be?’” Morrissey said. “Living, and then a bomb is dropped on your house, or your cousin died because of something that happened where they are. It would be really hard, so I want to help them. Even though it can’t be that much, there are things we can do.”

“It’s been shocking hearing everything on the news,” Quinn chimed in. “Usually we think of wars as ‘the past.’”

Dudek is understandably proud of his students.

“I’m overwhelmed with the amount of organization these three young ladies have put into it,” he said. “They’ve drafted the emails, they contacted all the businesses themselves. It’s really their plan, and I’m giving them agency on where they’d like this to go.”

Vermonters in general have been rallying behind the plight of Ukraine’s children. At a candlelight vigil on Tuesday, Gov. Phil Scott signed bill H.717, an “act relating to providing humanitarian assistance to the people of Ukraine.” Scott confirmed more than $640,000 of the aid will go to Save the Children, a humanitarian organization dedicated to supporting children around the globe.

Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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