After learning about the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine, Lyons Elementary School students felt compelled to help out and wanted to raise money to support Ukrainian humanitarian crisis relief efforts.
Mr. Eric Lewis, a 6th grade teacher at Lyons Elementary, headed up the effort and helped assemble a fundraising competition within the district — one that would ultimately lead the district to raising more than $6,600 in about two weeks.
The fundraiser, called The Penny Wars, encouraged students to bring in coins that earn points in a competition amongst the grade levels. Each grade level had its own container, and pennies earn one point each. Silver coins are worth negative points, so placing nickels, dimes and quarters into other grades’ containers would reduce their overall score.
Having a tangible solution — something they could actually do to help — made some Lyons students feel pride and responsibility in their chance to take part.
Liam, a 6th grade student, said he knew from the day the Penny Wars were announced that he was going to participate.
“I thought it was really cool because Ukraine really needs money to be helped for the war going on,” Liam said. “The first day after school I asked my mom if I could bring in money and I emptied my piggy bank to bring it to school so I could help because Ukraine really needs it.”
Students at Lyons Elementary have been learning about Ukraine for the last several years, as the school has had an existing partnership with Ukrainian schools and projects, Mr. Lewis said.
Lyons Elementary students had already had penpals from Ukrainian schools and participated in video calls with classes their age, Mr. Lewis said. During the Russian invasion in 2014, Lyons students worked with UNICEF to send Ukrainian students from front-line villages to summer camps in safer cities in the western part of the country.
For Liam, learning about Ukraine in school helped him feel a deeper connection to students his age on the other side of the world. And sure, he emptied out his piggy bank for the Penny Wars — but it was for a really, really good cause, he said.
“It’s an entire country I’m helping,” Liam said. “I can do a couple of chores to regain it.”
The district’s efforts have already begun to help people in Ukraine, Mr. Lewis said. In a subway station in Kharkiv — a large Ukrainian city close to the Russian border and the target of recent bombing — people received more than 5,500 meals provided by the Lyons Central School District. It costs about $400 to serve 2,000 meals, Mr. Lewis explained.
The district’s efforts, combined with contributions from Lyons National Bank and other community organizations, have also helped 12 families find safe housing in Poland and Slovakia, Mr. Lewis said.
“One of the big takeaways is how nice it is that a small elementary school and high school in a small, rural town in Upstate New York is able to make such a big impact on an issue so far away,” Mr. Lewis said. “It speaks volumes to the character of both the students and the community that they were so generous.”
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