Showing you're never too young to make a difference, fifth graders at Lake Grove Elementary School have joined the global effort to support Ukraine.
On Thursday, March 31, Neil Mudanai, Jacob Sivatjian, Luke Hefner, Christian Osborne, Miles Koegler, Elijah Tormey, and Jack Lopez stood on the outskirts of East Waluga Park in Lake Oswego waving Ukrainian flags while selling baked goods, homemade posters and beaded jewelry in the county's national colors. The students raised $500 which will go towards refugee relief for Ukrainians fleeing their homes due to the Russian invasion.
"The fundraiser can help a lot of people and show them that we are here, and looking out for them," Jacob said.
The fundraiser was spearheaded by fifth grade student Neil Mudanai. After watching the news with his family and learning about how many Ukrainians have been displaced due to the Russian invasion, Neil wanted to help. His mother, Anjum Mukadam, proposed that he organize some type of fundraiser, as Neil is no stranger to charitable efforts. At the height of the pandemic, he raised $100 for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital by selling homemade cheesecakes to his neighbors.
"We have been watching the news together, and I spoke with my children about how we can support others and turn this into a positive. Otherwise children are left feeling frustrated or angry. So instead of that, we want to divert it towards a more constructive source where they can help others," Mukadam said.
Neil ran with his mother's idea and rallied some friends from his class to help orchestrate the fundraiser. The student's had a planning meeting the day prior, on Wednesday evening, and on Thursday after school they set up a foldable table at the park for their bake sale.
"I felt bad for (the Ukrainians) after seeing everything on the news," Neil said. "It feels really good to help them with my friends."
The students raised $250 during the fundraiser and through additional donations collected over the weekend. The group donated to the Ukraine Crisis Relief Fund via Save the Children Federation Inc., which will donate humanitarian aid to Ukrainian children and their families. The global non-profit organization adds equal matching funds, and the student's total donation is finalized to $500.
Luke said that the money they raise could go towards purchasing blankets and food, which makes him feel happy to know that those seeking refuge are warm and not hungry.
During the school day, the seven students made posters and bracelets with their entire class. Fifth grade teacher Rebecca Johanson-O'Loughlin said that the positive impact her students have made is "amazing."
"Having students that see a problem in the world and actively want to help is so awe-inspiring. Neil had an idea and just ran with it. And then his friends all joined in, then the whole class. I just feel so proud that I get to be with these kids every day," Johanson-O'Loughlin said.
The student organizers each said the fundraiser was a way to show their support, raise awareness and prove that you can be compassionate for those who live beyond your city limits.
"I watch the news with my dad, and I feel really bad watching people get hurt," said Christian, "and I know they would help us if it was happening here."
According to United Nations estimates, more than four million Ukrainians have been forced to seek refuge in neighboring nations amid the invasion. Children make up half of this population.
The group said that they couldn't imagine their families having to evacuate their community. Miles said the situation would be "really scary" if it were happening in the United States and wants to help Ukrainians as much as he can because it is the right thing to do.
"A lot of people are struggling over there, and you may think we can't do all too much — like we can't go over to Ukraine — but we can do things like this here, and I think a little can go a long way," Jack said.
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