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Barbara Kraj Delivers More than 60 Pairs of Children’s Shoes to Ukrainian Refugees in Poland

By Erica Howell

Barbara Kraj, program director for medical laboratory sciences, visits her parents in Gliwice, Poland every summer. This year's trip looked a little different.

The crisis in Ukraine began in February, and support from Poland began immediately. The people of Gliwice made a concerted effort to help Ukrainian businesses, and the city opened a support center in an arena where supplies could be donated and refugees could get what they needed.

Kraj's parents regularly donated supplies to the center. One day in April, while dropping off hygiene supplies, Kraj's mother, Jolanta, overheard Ukrainian refugee parents talking about their children outgrowing the shoes they arrived in.

This need tugged at Kraj's heartstrings, and she asked faculty and staff in the College of Health Sciences if they would like to donate children's shoes for her to take with her on her trip. Her limit was 30 pairs, owing to the size of her luggage.

Faculty and staff were touched by Kraj's story and grateful to have the opportunity to send a little piece of ODU to help refugees. A few students saw the box of shoes in her office and dropped some off as well. She received 61 pairs of shoes, several packs of socks and support for the oversized luggage fees.

"My husband went ahead of me to Kraków with the 11 largest pairs, and I flew to Gliwice with the 50 remaining pairs in June," Kraj explained.

Control of the donation center transferred from the city of Gliwice to a private foundation, and temporarily closed in July to be relocated from the arena to a local ice skating rink owned by Politechnika Śląska (Silesian University of Technology). Kraj's husband joined her in Gliwice during that time, and they took the shoes to the donation center on Aug. 1. She said the donation was met with "great joy."

The facility is run by Ukrainians, some of whom lived in Gliwice before the crisis began. Kraj said that although people are adapting to life in a crisis, there is still a lot of uncertainty and anger, as well as concern that it will spill over the border. Gliwice is 431 km (267 miles) from Lviv, Ukraine.

"Everybody has a story," she said. "Everybody is helping somebody. This is happening everywhere, even in the smallest villages."

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