The Lipowa Centre, One Year Into the War

By Olivia Choi

It’s been over a year since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, ASW’s Lipowa center continues to help the Ukrainian refugees with the combined effort of volunteer students, parents, and teachers. 

Last week, Sebastian M. initiated a project to make candles for Ukrainian refugees, in collaboration with the youth-led non profit organization Rays of Hope. He explained that his mom first suggested the idea since it would allow “11th and 12th graders to get community service hours and do their CAS project.” 

This idea, starting with “getting in contact with Ms. Miele, the ASW Service Coordinator,” grew into a real event hosted at the Lipowa center, which resulted in around 60 candles made for Ukrainian refugees. 

Sebastian expressed his amazement with the amount of help that arrived. “I thought that not many people would go, but turns out many people came, like 30 students and about 6 or 7 parents,” he said. The candles, made out of cardboard and wax, will be distributed soon and heat up the houses of those who are suffering from frequent power outages. 

Volunteers and the candle-making workshop. Photo courtesy of ASW E-Notes.

On the other side, the usual weekend of the Lipowa center still goes on with student and teacher volunteers. Taj and Mr. Taylor both come here whenever they can, handing out food and groceries to the Ukrainian refugees as “the guy behind the counter,” says Taj, folding and throwing away cardboards, recycling waste, and sorting clothes.

Taj explained that “working with all these beautiful people, both the staff and the Ukrainians that we’re helping” is what he likes most about coming here. 

Mr Taylor shared similar appreciation to the people working together, and added that the Lipowa center “is nice that it’s a very small scale operation and there is zero administrative work” because  “we’re not wasting money on administration or branding,” unlike bigger charities like “Red Cross or Amnesty International, where such a huge part of the budget is going to the administrative work.”

Unfortunately, both of them described the center as “under-supplied” and explained that there is always the question of how the supplies can be distributed sufficiently, but also equally to everyone. 

As the war extends itself longer and longer, the immediate need for aid has diminished. However the end of this crisis never seems to arrive for the refugees, demanding a more systematic approach to the distribution of food. Mr. Taylor sighed, “People can only come once a week, and they have to show a document, like a passport, since it’s 1 box of supplies per family.” He said that it is heartbreaking to say “No” to the hungry people when they come twice a week, because “every person we say “no” to has nothing while we have money for anything.” Moreover, he pointed out that sometimes Polish people who are in need come here and ask for help, but “it’s difficult because this is really for the Ukrainian refugees.” 

Moreover, the work that desperately needs their help is not always simple or quick. Mr Taylor described the task of sorting and folding clothes as a “Sisyphsian task” that gives him “mind-number frustration” because as people come and go to try to quickly find clothing, the “shelves are constantly becoming a mess and you could sort them all day.” 

Clothes in various states of sorting. Photo by Olivia Choi.

So what really makes them “wake up early in the morning” to come here every weekend to face the piles of clothes and boxes awaiting them? Taj says, “I feel like helping other people makes you a better person. You meet the people here, everyone’s great, and just getting back to the community.” Mr Taylor smiled, “It’s hard to answer without sounding saccharine.” He continued, “When the war started, I think we all felt like we had to do something, and then we asked Ms. Ligita if she needed some help, and we just kept coming back, and now it’s kind of hard not to show up now because she’s expecting us but it does feel good. And It is a very tiny contribution but it is a good part of my week to know that I did something productive.”

Lastly, they both added a word of encouragement for those reading this article “Come here! Anyone who’s reading this article can come help!”


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