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Whitman Student Wins British Columbia Medal of Good Citizenship for Her Service to Ukrainian Refugees

By Casey Brown

When Talia Lorincz ’26, a second-year Chemistry major at Whitman College, received the British Columbia Medal of Good Citizenship for her service to Ukrainian refugees, she got emotional. “I thought it was really, really kind and a tremendous honor,” she says.

The second highest award offered in the Canadian province, the medal recognizes generosity, service, acts of selflessness and contributions to community life. And Lorincz hopes it can, in a small way, bring some focus back to the war in Ukraine. 

“The more time that goes by, less I hear people talking about it,” she says, “Any publicity that gets people talking about what is still going on in Ukraine and to the Ukrainian people is really good.”

Just a Few Raincoats

Since the beginning of the Russian invasion, millions of Ukrainians have been displaced. Many left their homes with nothing more than one or two bags of belongings. By 2022, when Lorincz was 16, some 200,000 refugees had moved to Canada from Eastern Europe. And Lorincz wanted to help. 

Her initial idea was small—gather donated raincoats for seven or so refugee families—but it soon grew into something much bigger.  

“I just started reaching out to groups, churches, sports clubs and schools around the neighborhood—and a lot of people from Facebook—to ask for donations,” she says. 


The help started flooding in—and didn’t stop until Lorincz had much more on her hands than she’d expected. 

“I would come home, and my entire porch would be just full of boxes and boxes,” she says. “It grew from seven families to you know, 10, 20, 30, 40 people coming a week.”

That led Lorincz to her big idea: Why not open a free store in the basement of her Vancouver home, where people could “shop” for what they needed? 

“We were talking with these Ukrainians who would bring us clothes and they’d say, ‘Well, people came and dropped off all of these bags, but nothing fits me. And, you know, I have a personal style and I want to choose,’” she recalls. “So I think we kind of gave back an aspect of independence and choice. Even the tiniest bit of that allowed them to feel really good about what they were wearing.

"We wanted to support peoples dignity and self-respect, It seems small but choosing your own clothes and feeling good about what you’re wearing contributes to how you feel about yourself when so much of what is happening is beyond your control .”

Clothes in boxes and hanging on racks.

Give & Take

As the free store took root, many refugees came to rely on it as a way to help each other as well. “They would always try to bring even just one thing back or a gift for somebody else to pass on,” Lorincz says. “Some would bring food I could give to the next person.”

Help came from many other sources too. “My family was really, really amazing with it. They were helping all the time because there was just so, so, so many donations that we were sorting through, folding and cleaning,” she says.

“People from all around the neighborhood would come into our basement and help to collect and then fold and clean and set stuff out. We even had neighbors who were driving an hour out of the city to go in and pick up a family or two and then drive them back in so they could come visit the store, which was just so, so kind.”

Moments of Joy & Chaos

For Lorincz, the interactions with kids were especially meaningful—and fun. 

“We’d had a couple pairs of roller skates that had been given to us,” she says. “The kids in the store found them, as kids do, and they strapped them on, and it was just absolute, very fun chaos.”

On another day, a little girl came to the store and seemed sad, not finding anything she liked—until Lorincz pulled a princess dress from a box.  

“I pulled it out, and she just started screaming and jumping up and down. It turned out she’d had the exact same dress back home,” Lorincz says. “But they’d only been able to take backpacks when they left, so she had to leave it behind. And it had been her absolute favorite thing.”

Moments like these were why Lorincz managed the free store until she graduated from high school and continued to do so from her dorm for her first two semesters as a Whittie.

“It was just so moving to see how small things can bring people so much joy.”

Published on Apr 15, 2024
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