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Mattituck Students organize book and toy drive for children fleeing Ukraine

When war broke out in Ukraine, Misia Uklanska, a Mattituck High School sophomore, knew she had to do something to honor her grandmother, a World War II survivor from Eastern Europe.

“I am 100% Slavic,” Misia said. “I grew up totally immersed in the culture … I feel very connected to this and I’ve always wanted to support a humanitarian cause, but I’ve never felt like I could actually do something. This is the first time that I felt really driven to do something about everything that’s happening right now between Ukraine and Russia.” 

According to the BBC, more than 1 million Ukrainians have fled to Poland, where Misia’s family is from.

She immediately reached out to her high school’s student council president, Daniel Rosato, and they quickly put together a toy and book drive for children fleeing Ukraine into Poland.

“There’s going to be boxes throughout our school in specific locations where students can bring in items,” Daniel said.

They are also opening it up to the community and will be accepting donations through the end of the week until Friday, March 11. There will be a box set up in the high school lobby so community members who don’t have a connection to the district can still donate. 

“We’re reaching [out to] the community because we hope for this [to] not necessarily be a Mattituck High School thing, but a community thing,” Daniel said.

“We’re more than happy to accept any donations from anybody,” Misia added.

On their first night, during the return of Tucker Bowl on Friday, they collected more than 150 stuffed animals and over 60 books, according to Misia.

“We’re going to print out little messages in Cyrillic [and] attach them to each stuffed animal so that way, when each kid gets one, they can read the message and it’s a heartwarming one,” Misia said.

Misia and her family are using their connections in Poland to transport the donations they will collect this week to children in need. Misia’s father, an artist, has worked with a shipper who can move the donations into the country. 

Misia’s mother, an art historian and museum curator, is currently working with Warsaw’s Museum of Modern Art, which has now become a refugee help center.

“They have a whole organization where volunteers, ordinary civilians, are driving refugees from the border to the capital in Poland, Warsaw,” Misia said. ”We can easily ship everything and it will be driven to the border, and we’d have updates about it and pictures, because we know the people personally.”

The family also partnered with the Polish grassroots organization Libraries Without Borders to move donations as well.

Jacqueline Portocarrero, an English teacher at Mattituck High School, helped Misia and Daniel write a letter to the community to let people know about the drive. The school principal sent the letter home and they also put together a letter to the editor, which was published as a letter to the editor in last weeks edition of The Suffolk Times.

“They’ve been getting a lot of food and clothing but they’re not getting things for the children to do, so this is kind of trying to lighten their burden and their mood and the distraction from some of the things that they’re going through,” Ms. Portocarrero said.

Sean Morgan, a global history teacher at the high school, also helped set up the drive. He was very proud of his students’ hard work to help those affected by the war in Ukraine.

“To bring the global community into our classrooms into our school, I just think it’s amazing,” Mr. Morgan said. “It would help out all these displaced people.” 

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