Students and staff at West Nottinghamshire College have responded to an appeal by a Mansfield church to send emergency aid items to Ukrainian refugees.

They supported a major relief effort organised by the Old Meeting House Unitarian Church by joining other volunteers in getting boxes of essential items ready to go to people displaced by the crisis.

More than 50 students from several curriculum areas including foundation studies, health and social care, uniformed protective services, engineering, and A-levels, along with several staff members, joined church and community volunteers in sorting items, packing boxes and loading them onto vans, ready for dispatch to Berehove in western Ukraine and to northern counties in Romania.

It came after trustee Pauline Smith issued an urgent plea for help after the church, on Stockwell Gate, was inundated with donations of supplies from the local community, including from individuals, businesses, community groups, schools and charities.

Pauline explained: “We were overwhelmed with donations. We started sorting through it all and it suddenly occurred to us that somehow we’d got to get all this stuff onto vans – and every pew was filed with boxes. We’re a small number of volunteers and not as young as we used to be, and we realised we couldn’t do it by ourselves – we had to have stronger, fitter people.

“And so I thought ‘I’ll go around the colleges and see if they’ve got anybody who can help’”. 

Students and staff members immediately rallied to the cause and selflessly gave up their time to box-up essential items including food, drink, medical supplies, personal hygiene products, supplies for children and babies, bedding, hats, socks, gloves, and pet food.

They took turns in supporting various shifts, co-ordinated by student enrichment and engagement officer Josh Levy. In a separate initiative, staff and students supported the church’s efforts by donating aid items through a collection organised by learning support assistant Bernie Tyers, whose shared staffroom at the college became a drop-off point.

Advanced Diploma in Public Services student Nina Goodwin, 16, said: “As soon as I heard about the opportunity, I jumped straight on it. It was a brilliant opportunity to get involved in the community and help Ukrainian refugees return to some sort of normality. It’s tragic what has happened, so it’s nice to give some input and help them out.”

Her views were echoed by fellow public services student Finlay West, 17, who said: “It felt like a nice thing to do because the Ukrainian refugees don’t know we’re doing this for them. It makes you feel pleased that you’re doing it with no reward; it gives you a sense of pride that you’re helping others.

“It seems inhumane what’s going one at the moment. All their homes are being destroyed and they no longer have all the things we take for granted, so I was more than happy to get involved.”

Advanced Technical Certificate in Health and Social Care student Jorja Hancock, 17, said: “I just wanted to help people and show them how much we support them, no matter what happens in the world.

“Some of my friends have family in Ukraine, so I’d like to support them as well as other refugees. If there was a war in the UK we’d want people from other countries to help us, so it goes both ways.”  

Sarah Murdoch, 16, who also studies health and social care, said: “People in Ukraine are going through a really rough time and I know if I needed help, then I’d want someone to help me. It’s not their fault – they didn’t choose the things that are happening. They are people just trying to live their normal lives, the same as us, and trying to get back to normal.”

Intermediate Diploma in Engineering Maintenance student Lucy Place, 16, said: “With the crisis that’s going on, people need all the help they can get. It’s important to do this because not many refugees have the things they need, particularly women, children and new-born babies. It’s so unfair on them and on the males who have to stay and fight for their own country.”

Thanking students for their efforts, Pauline Smith added: “I was totally overwhelmed by their response and the enthusiasm and willingness they showed. Some of them made up boxes, others sorted through the items, and some loaded them onto vans. 

“We couldn’t have done this without the young people.”

Rev Maria Pap, Minister of the Old Meeting House, said: “We are very grateful because their help made a real difference. It made the process much easier, and I think it’s a learning process for the students too – a learning process about what’s happening in the world. 

“We shared an exhilarating feeling of trying to help people in need. We are so far away from the conflict that our options are limited – but it’s really important to do what we can at this time, and make sure that people who are affected get help and support. This is the personal touch.”

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