Saratoga County

Family from Ukraine arranges donation drive for loved ones, others in war zone

Organizer and Schuylerville sophomore Abigail Becker, 16, helps load a box of donations for Ukraine with classmate Madisyn Awilow, 15, in a cafeteria full of donations at Schuylerville Elementary in Schuylerville on Thursday.
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Organizer and Schuylerville sophomore Abigail Becker, 16, helps load a box of donations for Ukraine with classmate Madisyn Awilow, 15, in a cafeteria full of donations at Schuylerville Elementary in Schuylerville on Thursday.

SCHUYLERVILLE — As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues to send millions fleeing to refugee camps, two Ukrainian-born siblings turned to the Schuylerville Central School District for help.

Michael and Abigail Becker, 13 and 16, approached their respective principals in the middle school and high school asking if their schools could take part in bringing humanitarian aid to those escaping the war.

Born in Odessa, Ukraine, Michael and Abigail made their proposal after learning that St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church in Watervliet was sending donations to help refugees.

The Beckers’ idea mushroomed into a massive effort that involved students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

In what was just a portion of the items on display Thursday, eight cafeteria tables in the elementary school were stacked with items like diapers, blankets, wipes, and medical supplies.

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“It’s crazy,” said 12th-grader Katie Pelletier-Hoblock, as she packed boxes. “I did not expect this. I knew there was going to be a lot of stuff. But there’s hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of items.”

“When bad times strike, Schuylerville in general seems to come together and all the parents and the kids seem to band together,” said fellow senior Maeve Buff.

The Beckers’ mother, Kyiv-native Tania Becker, took the day off from work as an academic administrative assistant for biology and chemistry at Skidmore College to help with packing and coordination.

The items were delivered to the Watervliet church, which had a limited window for accepting donations Thursday — from 5 to 7 p.m. Another round of items will be delivered to the church Friday, the fifth and final day of the donation drive.

“We lined up parents in trucks to come and pick boxes up and deliver them,” Tania said. “Parents, students, the whole community.”

Other agencies are bringing items, as well.

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The Saratoga Regional YMCA’s Wilton branch was said to be bringing “a huge delivery” Friday.  Saratoga Hospital and Schuylerville Library also collected items. Summit at Saratoga, a 55-and-older residential community, is giving a monetary donation in hopes of covering shipping and medical supply costs.

Penske donated an 18-foot truck to help transport items to the Watervliet church. The district also received donations of packing boxes from U-Haul and Home Depot.

A K-12 “dress down” day involving school staff raised $1,429 to go towards shipping costs.

The Beckers still have strong ties to Ukraine. Tania’s mother left Kyiv by bus on March 9, evacuating with other refugees to western Ukraine on the border of Poland.

Her brother sent his wife and two young daughters to Germany on March 3, but stayed behind in Kyiv to fight and work with local volunteer groups to rescue people under attack.

“I have aunts and uncles in Kyiv who are trying to survive and are helping others,” Tania said.

As she watched Schuylerville staff and students pack boxes, the mother said, “It makes me feel great that the local community and the people that I know who are our friends are so open and willing to help and reach out and do everything they can to help women and children and the wounded and the elderly in need, who lost their homes. Many of them lost everything they had.”

Tania married Paul Becker, an American who works for the Department of Defense, in 2000 and the Beckers remained in Kyiv until they eventually moved to Odessa, where their children were born.

They moved to New York in 2011 when Michael and Abigail were 3 and 5.

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While the humanitarian aid drive is personal for the Beckers, Tania said she believes locals would have stepped up for any country’s dire need.

“It’s going to the country that I love, and the cities that have been destroyed,” she said. “But I think the local community would be willing to help any country in any nation of the world. It’s just a very nice community.”

Middle School Principal Katie Elsworth, who remembers being approached by Michael, said she was also surprised by the volume of donations.

“I thought maybe three or four tables worth,” she said.

But at the same time, she appeared not to be surprised.

“I’m just somebody who truly believes in the spirit of the human being, and the community, to come together to solve the world’s problem,” Elsworth said. “It’s always about people. If we can help in any small way and teach our students about the impact that they can have on each other, specifically, and then also the world at large, I think that’s a great opportunity for kids to learn.”

The items will be shipped to Poland via Meest, a Polish-Ukrainian carrier that Tania Becker said is reliable.

“Hopefully in four to eight weeks,” Tania said, “we are anticipating that the towns in western Ukraine and the Ukrainian refugees on the Polish-Ukrainian border will be able to get the supplies.”

Contact reporter Brian Lee at [email protected] or 518-419-9766.

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