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East Setauket girl leads effort to aid Australian animals imperiled by wildfires

Newsday spoke Monday with Long Islanders who are helping raise awareness and funds for victims of the Australia wildfires. (Credit: James Carbone)

Sixth-grader Lily Rosengard has grown up in a house where her family rescues injured goats, ducks, chickens, swans and other animals.

So as she learned about the wildfires destroying massive swaths of land in Australia, killing an estimated 1 billion animals, she was horrified.

Last week, Lily, 11, decided to do something about it. She is spearheading a project to sew “joey pouches” to send to Australia to help save the lives of millions of orphaned kangaroos, koala, and other animals in the species known as marsupials.

The pouches replicate the natural pouches that marsupial mothers have on their bellies and in which their newborns live at least the first year of their lives. Without them, they can’t survive.

“I really felt bad for all the animals and I thought that I needed to find a way to help,” said Lily, who lives in East Setauket. “It was really horrible that they are all burning and getting hurt from the fires, and they lost their parents.”

Some of the animals are being found in the pouches of their dead mothers. Others were separated from their mothers amid the chaos.

Lily’s project has triggered an outpouring of support. Her 700-student school, the Setauket Elementary School, has pledged to donate fabric and help sew the pouches. So has Lily’s Girl Scout troop.

People are also donating money for groups that are on the ground in Australia trying to save the animals.

“I think it is fantastic that in such a short time you were able to get an entire community together to raise funds for the rescue and rehabilitation facilities in Australia,” Lily’s mother, Debbie Rosengard, told her Monday as they sat in the family’s home, which a sign out front identifies as the “The Farmhouse.”

“We’re a loving community that just wants to give,” she said.

So far, Lily has sewed about 40 of the pouches. She spends about six hours a day after school working on them, and hours more during the weekend.

She will then ship them to a group in Pennsylvania which in turn will transport them to Australia.

She got the design for the pouches off a website.

The pouches vary in size so they can fit different sizes of orphaned babies. She uses two types of fabric, including fleece or flannel for the inside so it is smooth for the baby animals, and cotton on the outside.

The surviving infant animals will be kept in the joey pouches and fed by rescue workers.

At her school, where Lily is on the student council, teachers announced the project over the loudspeaker, and sent out flyers to classes.

“I feel really good about it that we are helping Australia and that my whole school and my family is getting involved in it,” Lily said, noting that her sister Eve, 13, and her father, Michael, are also helping out.

The family has become somewhat famous locally for their rescue work, with people often calling to inform them of injured wildlife. Their backyard is a mini farm, with goats, chickens, ducks, and other animals.

They once saved a duck with a severed spine which they kept in their bathtub for two months as the duck awaited surgery and for two years as it hobbled on one foot and they nursed it back to health.

“I love helping animals when they are hurt,” Lily said.

She is not the only one on Long Island trying to help Australia. Several running organizations are mounting a 5K run this Saturday at Cedar Creek Park in Seaford to raise funds.

One of the organizers is Corey Byrne Roberts, a native of Australia who also directs the Long Island Marathon in Nassau County.

The fires “are terrible and devastating to watch,” he said.

After making an individual financial donation to assist Australia, he thought that was not nearly enough. So he started organizing his running friends and groups to put together the “Land DownUnder 5K.”

The charity run starts at 9:30 a.m.

Another organizer, Brendan Dagan, said the groups, which are all working pro-bono, are hoping to raise as much as $40,000.

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