Fairfax County teachers return after helping Ukrainian refugees

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Lee and Meredith Hedrick said they couldn’t sit around and watch people suffer.

FAIRFAX, Va. — Months after Russia invaded Ukraine, refugees continue to flee.

The effort to help families flee the war-torn country has not slowed down. World Central Kitchen is a mainstay in Poland, about 10 miles from the border, to help feed mothers and children looking for a new home.

Among the many volunteers who flew to Poland to help are Lee and Meredith Hedrick, a married couple who teach at two different high schools in Fairfax County.

Using their own money, each of the former Peace Corps volunteers spent a week separately serving food to the refugees. School officials supported their trip to take time off school to help.

“I think we really felt we had to do something,” Lee told WUSA9. “We thought we couldn’t just sit and watch people suffer and do nothing.”

Lee spent most of her time behind the kitchen while Meredith volunteered to distribute meals so she could have more time with the refugees.

They were overwhelmed by the sheer volume of refugees while witnessing the impact of war first-hand and the power of service and community.

“You couldn’t even sit down because you were serving food, breakfast, lunch and dinner all the time,” Meredith recalled. There was always a need and there was always someone coming from the station or the border.”

“Nobody ever wants to be a refugee, but they’re here, without their fathers, without their husbands, and without their fathers,” Lee said.

Meredith said she used what little Russian she knew to communicate and even witnessed good news when Ukraine won Eurovision.

Lee has also spent time outside of the kitchen to help shop for toys and provide them to kids chasing the next league on their journey.

“While they put on a brave face, you could tell they were very stressed, so if we could provide some comfort, that made me feel better,” Lee said.

Both teachers said they wanted to use their experience to teach their children the meaning of going beyond. It made them realize the difficulties of being refugees and hopefully have more empathy for refugee students in their schools.

Although Fairfax County Public Schools does not track student enrollment by refugee status, anecdotally, Ukrainian refugee students enrolled in FPCS this spring.

“I really think we need to think about how we support the students that are here,” Meredith added. “I got really emotional, especially on the last day I’m going home but this nightmare continues for these people.”

RELATED: Train Carrying Food for World Central Kitchen Destroyed in Missile Attack Aimed at Helping Ukrainians

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