The importance of giving back through community service is emphasized to every student at St. Joseph’s Prep and, indeed, to students at each of the Atlantic Prep Athletic Conference institutions. Serving overseas however, in a part of the world impacted by war, requires a different level of commitment.
Quinn Egan chose to take that step. A senior at St. Joseph’s Prep and a forward on the hockey team, Egan, a Blue Bell resident, spent his spring break in Poland last month assisting Ukrainian refugees fleeing the war that continues to decimate their homeland.
His father, Tom Egan, accompanied him. In fact, the trip was Tom Egan’s idea.
“(His father) has always been really interested in world events,” Quinn Egan said. “So, he had been reading up on this for six or seven months, just watching the tension build. He used to tell me about it every day and started giving me daily updates and I realized how big of a deal it truly was.
“He thought it was something that we could go over and get involved in and it would good to help people.”
The trip was arranged through Caritas, a Catholic service organization. Father and son flew from Newark to Warsaw, Poland and drove from there to Lublin, a city located roughly an hour west of the Ukraine border. They spent the first two days of their trip there packing clothing.
“There were shipments coming from throughout the world,” Egan said. “They had tons and tons of clothes.
“We packed them into boxes and put them on a bunch of pallets, then onto a huge truck that every night was driven into the Ukraine somewhere.
Egan and his father also spent much of two days at the border assisting incoming refugees.
“We pretty much greeted and welcomed refugees,” Egan said. “We gave them food, basically any necessities that we had Anything they needed, we would try and give them if we had it.
“There was also a shelter where refugees could be registered and eventually, after one or two days, sent off to somebody’s house to live in to give them a more permanent home.”
That new home would likely be in Poland but theoretically could be anywhere in the EU.
Egan that the refugees he encountered were optimistic despite their circumstances. “They truly believed they will win the war,” he said. “They do have a positive mindset when it comes to that.”
Egan says there was one instance that gave him pause.
“There was one moment when I felt nervous and did not know what was happening,” he said. “One morning I woke before my dad. I went out to go to a bakery and just grab a donut or a piece of bread or whatever.
“There was a plane that flew overhead really low. And where we are (in Lublin), there’s no major airport so no flights are coming in. Ukraine is only a quick drive away.
“When the plane flew overhead in the Old Town, the pedestrian-only area, everybody went inside, into a building. Hundreds of people just ran into a building. It was completely uncertain. Nobody knew if it was a Russian plane an American plane, a Finnish or a Polish plane. Nobody knew. So, that was the only time I felt even a little bit unsafe. But, besides that, I felt completely safe the whole time. And the Polish people, I’ll say, are very confident nothing will happen to them.”
Egan returned to St. Joseph’s Prep following the Easter holiday with a fresh perspective on the war.
“I think experiencing something in general makes the news way whatever it is more powerful,” he said. “So, actually going over there and meeting the people that are being forced out of their homes or having their homes destroyed while maybe having a family member also being killed, makes it really powerful to see what’s happening.
Egan reflected on how his trip tied into his school’s concept of community service.
“When I was in eighth grade I remember a Prep presentation given by a few students and the admissions director Howie Brown,” he said. “And I remember them really emphasizing the importance of service, of helping others no matter how big or small I know that’s been a major emphasis from Day One at the Prep and even before the Prep that you should always try to be involved I whatever you can.”