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When Asia Moore started volunteering for a charity based in Carlsbad eight years ago, she had no idea she would be in the organization’s pilot seat for aiding Ukrainian refugees in Poland today.

Moore is program director for Kids for Peace, a grassroots-grown-global network of caring school children who have taken a pledge to be kind and to help others.

They are performing minor miracles for moms and their kids displaced by the Russian invasion of Ukraine that began Feb. 24. So far, they have funneled $20,750 directly to 830 refugees in three small towns in southwestern Poland, and are identifying more villages to help.

Moore grew up in Poland, and many of her friends and family still live there.

She was in shock when the war broke out. “Frankly, I was devastated. I felt like it was so close to my home geographically and culturally.”

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TV news of the bombardment with sirens wailing summoned memories of war stories shared by her Polish grandparents. “I couldn’t sleep, and I was terrified,” Moore says.

The invasion came alive every day for her through stories related by her friends and family about the hordes of refugees flooding into Poland and needing support.

“I have a lot of friends who housed refugees,” she says. Her brother, Maciek Zak, 44, runs a Polish transportation company. Since Feb. 24, he has made repeated trips to the Ukrainian border to pick up refugees and ferry them to havens in his country.

A lot of the estimated 2.75 million Ukrainians who fled to Poland have moved on to other destinations. But many remain, overwhelming small villages that lack resources to support them.

“At Kids for Peace, we always want to have a direct impact,” says Jill McManigal, who founded the organization in 2008 and remains at the helm. With Moore’s family connections in Poland, she realized they could get aid directly into the hands of those in most need.

“Mothers were having to leave their homes so quickly, they were showing up with one bag of belongings and no cash,” she explains. Even if they had Ukrainian money, it was of little value in Poland.

“We decided that cash would be the best thing to give directly to the families as it is empowering and gives them a sense of dignity and support,” McManigal adds. Plus, they often needed to pay for personal things, such as medical care and prescription medicine.

Kids for Peace reached out to its 52 domestic and 43 foreign chapters and 30,000 school programs asking for video messages of love and hope — and for donations — with 100 percent of the tax-deductible gifts going to refugees.

The original goal of $20,000 already has been exceeded by about $15,000. Many of the contributions are coming from schools that held creative fundraisers, such as making a donation for the privilege of wearing jeans to school or hats to class.

Students at Lowell Elementary in Bellingham, Wash., held a coin drive, “Change 4 Kids,” in which students raised more than $1,200 for refugees by emptying their piggy banks, holding a bake sale and selling lemonade.

“My second grade class raised this money by doing kind acts throughout the week to show their support and love for the people of Ukraine,” one teacher posted on the fundraising website.

Foothill Ranch Elementary School in Orange County contributed nearly $4,000.

A plea to kids for 5-second video greetings resulted in 97 heartfelt messages from 23 states and four countries that were compiled into a single uplifting video of love and hope to share with the refugee families.

Forty-four schools in Ukraine previously had participated in the Kids for Peace global Great Kindness Challenge. Students in one Ukraine classroom had become pen pals with U.S. students so Kids for Peace sent the video to the teacher asking for suggestions on how the organization could help.

In her response, she said she cried upon seeing the video and reported that none of the students in her class were killed or injured and most had left the country. She had moved in with her daughter in Germany but still was conducting online classes with her scattered students.

“I’ll send them this video,” she wrote. “I’m sure they’ll be (as) touched as I am.”

Kids for Peace is focusing on villages and towns with small populations that are more heavily affected and lack the organized support of Poland’s larger cities.

Ukrainian refugees staying in the Polish town of Porabka Village view the Kids for Peace messages of love sent to them.

Ukrainian refugees staying in the Polish town of Porabka Village view the Kids for Peace messages of love sent to them.

(Courtesy of Kids for Peace)

The first round of gifts — $25 to each refugee — was distributed in Kozy, Poland, where the San Diegans zoomed in on a town meeting of 280 refugees. They observed them watch the kids’ “Love for Ukraine” video, which included a few student messages in the Ukrainian language.

“I was so moved when we did the Zoom, seeing the sea of children’s faces,” says McManigal. “Many of the mothers had tears streaming down their cheeks. …Seeing them makes it seem so real, knowing that each individual’s life has been forever changed.”

Moore says she was shocked by how many young children there were. “That was heartbreaking to me.”

The second and third round of gifts were distributed to 350 refugees in Porabka Village, which has a population of only 3,800, and to 200 refugees in Lipnik, Bielsko-Biala, Moore’s hometown, with fewer than 6,000 inhabitants.

Moore says her brother oversees the distribution of cash and her father also helps with the project.

“We will continue raising funds as long as there is a need,” vows McManigal. They also are willing to serve in other ways as the need arises. “We always respond with whatever we can and however we can.”

A local resident reacts after a Russian attack on a residential area in Kharkiv, in northeastern Ukraine.

A Ukrainian reacts to an attack on residential Kharkiv April 19, the day Russia declared its renewed offensive in the region.

(Tayler Hicks/The New York Times)

Another local fundraising effort

Several days ago, I wrote a column after speaking with Dimitry Nessonov a resident of the heavily shelled city of Kharkiv in northeastern Ukraine. He is an IT systems manager who has worked virtually with a Chula Vista T-shirt printing company for more than a decade.

As soon as the war started, the company’s owner, Ryan Garcia, began collaborating with his Ukrainian friend to start a fundraising campaign by selling anti-war T-shirts and donating net proceeds to Ukraine’s military.

Due to war-related interruptions and power outages in Ukraine, Nessonov’s completion of the website design was delayed. However, he messaged me this week that it now is in operation. For those interested in learning more about their project or in buying one of Nessanov’s T-shirt designs, the website is: www.g3print.net

Meanwhile, the effect of the invasion — and the reason for the website delay — was brought home by Nessonov’s April 18 message to me from his home outside Kharkiv.

“My family and myself experienced bombings in my neighborhood, and we were hiding. Luckily, we were not hit, but there were many injured people in my neighborhood.” Despite the danger, they are remaining in Ukraine.

Source: This post first appeared on sandiegouniontribune.com

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