Stony Brook students, faculty and staff gathered in the Student Activities Center on Wednesday, March 9 from noon to 2 p.m. to donate supplies to Ukrainian refugees at a drive organized by Thomas Brinkley, a sophomore biology major.
Brinkley leaves for Bucharest, Romania on Thursday, March 10 with two suitcases of donated humanitarian goods, such as diapers, soap and menstrual products, in hand for Ukrainian refugees. He is spending his spring break volunteering halfway around the world in their support.
He will be joining his father, an active military officer working at the U.S. Embassy in Bucharest. Since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, over two million people have been displaced to neighboring countries like Romania.
Maksim Narodnitskiy, a Ukrainian native and Resident Assistant in Tubman Hall, began collecting clothing items in his building last week to donate. He has family members in Ukraine that are currently homeless as a result of the war.
“It’s a very sad situation. Politics has no regard for human life, it’s going to get in the way of human beings,” Narodnitskiy, a senior business major, said. “My aunt and my cousins just lost their house. They basically became homeless because their apartment building got blown up. They shouldn’t be dealing with it.”
His family is now safe and residing with his grandparents in the outskirts of another city.
Narodnitskiy was connected to Brinkley by the Student Support Team. Any items Brinkley is not able to fit in his suitcases will be shipped with the goods collected by Narodnitskiy through a donation site in Brooklyn, Three Hierarchs Greek Orthodox Church, offering to transport supply items to the frontlines at no cost.
“I’m personally a fan of efforts that are grassroots, and this is a great example of a Seawolf who normally helps other Seawolves, but is now going halfway around the world with suitcases in hand of the things that we’re donating to support. I just think that’s amazing,” Rick Gatteau, Vice President for Student Affairs, said.
Gatteau brought shaving cream, soap, toothpaste and toothbrushes for Brinkley to bring on his travels tomorrow, as well as donated online for financial support.
Brinkley implemented the idea to bring direct donations with encouragement of his mother, who found out about a joint effort between the embassy and the American International School of Budapest (AISB) from the Family Liaison Office (FLO). She is also a part of group chats with other defense attache spouses that were discussing the issue.
Two full bins of donated supplies will go directly to AISB and local non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
“Being in this position, being presented with an opportunity like that, it’s instinct,” Brinkley said. “It’s instinct for me to go and help out. I grew up that way.”
Brinkley lived in Bosnia for four years, from fifth grade through middle school.
“It’s a very similar situation. I was able to volunteer a little bit but also I was just a kid, so I wasn’t able to do as much as I could now,” he said. “One of the first vivid memories I have is getting off that airport when I first came and driving back to my house–there was an apartment building completely just dust with mortar shells. It really resonated with me and gives me this inspiration to go and help out.”
Items being collected include: non-perishable foods, drinking water, hygiene products, basic clothing, towels and blankets, dishwashing materials, paper towels, over the counter basic medications and first aid.
Brinkley has provided two easy and accessible ways for the community to help beyond the physical supply drive; he has also created a GoFundMe page and a Venmo initiative for monetary donations.
The GoFundMe campaign proceeds will also be directly given to the AISB and local NGOs such as World Vision Romania, Crucea Rosie Romana and Hope and Homes for Children Romania. The NGOs travel to border cities such as Siret to directly distribute resources and humanitarian goods.
Since launching four days ago, the campaign has met over half of its $2,000 goal.
The Venmo initiative will also allow Brinkley to collect proceeds himself and purchase supplies in Bucharest from local vendors and markets. He will donate funds to the NGOs in conjunction with the proceeds from the GoFundMe.
“I’m really proud of Stony Brook and the students here that are actually contributing, a bunch of them are stepping up like Tom,” Narodnitskiy said. “He’s not Ukrainian, he has nothing to do with this, but he’s stepping up and organizing this whole thing.”
Narodnitskiy will be collecting donations until tomorrow at the Resident Assistant offices in Chavez and Tubman Halls.
“We are an international university, and I think that speaks volumes. We’re not just a local community,” Gatteau said. “It’s people in our own community and their relatives that are affected.”