Parish To Parish; Humanitarian Aid For Russia
By Alexander Dorman
This article was prepared before the events of August, 1991 in Russia. While the political situation has changed, the need for humanitarian aid to Russia is just as great as it was in 1990. Through national church appeals and as our Parish to Parish Program gets under way, the Orthodox Church in America will continue to assist our brothers and sisters in Russia and in other Republics of the former Soviet Union.
The Spiritual and historical affiliation of the Orthodox Church in America with the Orthodox Church in Russia is a recognized fact. Indeed, many an Orthodox parish still calls itself Russian Orthodox, and this particular parish, SS Peter and Paul in Jersey City, N.J. is no exception. Many people are of Russian descent, many have friends and relatives in Russia, and all realize the canonical and traditional succession of the Orthodox Church in America from the Russian Orthodox Church. No wonder, then, that the events that have befallen that country forcefully draw our attention, and that life conditions of the people there in general, and of the Orthodox in particular, are of no small concern to the people here.
The developments of the last few years have brought about new freedoms, new hopes, but also new hardships for the people. One hears about them from mass media, but those pieces of information pale before that which one sees when one visits there. People come to church wrapped in rags; children’s shoes simply do not exist as consumer goods; tap water is poisoned with industrial waste, and vegetables, with excessive fertilizers; old people’s monthly pension often buys as little as two pounds of beef in the farmer’s market. Incidentally, old women, the “babushkas,” still comprise the majority of many parishes.
Shocked though as we were when we returned from Moscow last September 9, (1990), more deeply still shocked were we when we heard of the brutal murder on the same day of one of the most prominent pastors in the Russian Orthodox Church, Father Alexander Menu. That day our project was born.
We couldn’t feed and clothe three hundred million people. But we could do whatever possible to help our Orthodox brothers and sisters. We would appeal to our parishioners, collect from them food and clothes, and send it all to Fr. Alexander’s parish, the Meeting of Our Lord, in Novaya Derevnya, some 20 miles north of Moscow. (In addition to The Meeting of Our Lord parish in Novaya Derevnya, they now send parcels to other parishes as well.)
The idea was fully supported by our pastor, Fr. Daniel Hubiak, and by many parishioners, and approved by the Parish Council. “Russia Help Project” affiliated with SS Peter and Paul’s was inaugurated. An appeal to our parishioners was announced, and the collection began. Soon other parishes joined in: Assumption of the Holy Virgin Church in Clifton, NJ, Christ the Saviour Church in Harrisburg, PA, St. Vladimir’s Church in Trenton, NJ, Christ the Savior Church in New York City, and especially Christ the Savior Church in Paramus, NJ.
Several difficulties immediately arose:
It is a well known fact that even though many organizations send humanitarian aid to the USSR, a great part of it, if not all, gets stolen or distributed among those close to the authorities. To circumvent this possibility, we do not deal with any governmental or bureaucratic body. Instead, we send our aid to our “agents,” the parishioners of the Meeting of Our Lord Church, and to our close personal friends whom we have known for many years and whom we absolutely trust.
(More recently, to avoid possible customs duties, the group is sending packages addressed to the priest at the parish address. On the packages they clearly mark “Humanitarian Aid.” No duties have been imposed, and thus far, they are happy to report, they have not lost a single package.)
The cost of shipping is staggering. To ship by boat, which is much cheaper than by air, we would have to pack a 20-foot container which is beyond our ability. The best airline deal we have so far is about $1.20 per pound. Our main source of money to pay these costs has been individual donations, with one noticeable exception, a $1,000 gift from the Soros Foundation. This dictates the way the project operates.
Continually, we collect donations of food, clothes, etc. Some of them come already packed (as was the case with 48 boxes donated by Christ the Savior Church in Paramus), some loose; then we sort them out and pack them. We store them mainly in our basement, but also in the church hall and in the rectory’s garage. Periodically, we publish a bulletin staling the current state of affairs and, mainly, the current needs. We also collect money.
As soon as a sufficient amount of money has been collected, we ship. (A shipment goes out on the average of once a month.) We also try to use any opportunity to ship with individual travelers. Every now and then someone is going to Moscow who has not exhausted the airline baggage limit. He/she is kind enough to take a box or two along. When the shipments are small, we deliver the goods to the airport ourselves, in our family car. For large shipments, we use the generously offered help of Mr. Arthur Yaroshevich of Clifton, NJ who operates a trucking company. When a shipment is ready to go, we telephone the parish in Russia to let them know that a parcel is on its way.
ITEMS RECOMMENDED FOR DONATIONS
The following is an excerpt from our original information bulletin:
I. CLOTHING AND SHOES of all sorts and sizes. These items do not have to be new or fancy; even those things that you would otherwise consider throwing away, will do. Especially needed are socks, pantyhose, underwear, CHILDREN’S CLOTHES AND SHOES.
II. MEDICINES AND SANITARY ITEMS (children’s and adult’s)
1. Aspirin, Tylenol, etc.
3. Cold remedies, e.g., nasal decongestants (Afrin, Benadryl), Contact.
4. Toothpaste, toothbrushes.
III. NON-PERISHABLE FOODSTUFFS
1. Powdered milk.
2. Powdered eggs.
3. Tea, coffee, cocoa.
4. Oil in plastic bottles.
5. Bullion cubes (Knorre); concentrated dry soups, dry soup greens.
6. Baby formula (dry).
7. Dried fruits, raisins.
9. Yeast (dry).
10. Cereals (Farina, Oatmeal, Buckwheat-Kasha), baby cereals.
11. Split peas, lentils, barley, beans, etc.
12. Spices; pepper, cinnamon, garlic & onion powder.
13. Crackers, cookies.
14. Pasta products.
15. Pancake mix.
16. Easter egg dye.
IV. OTHER ITEMS
Needles, thread, zippers, velcro, elastics.
Pens, crayons, pencils, erasers, markers, scotch tape, water based “liquid paper.”
It is very difficult indeed, and perhaps altogether unnecessary, to “appraise” the results of such an effort. We have, however, some feedback; both from our representatives and by our personal account. We visited Novaya Derevnya right at the time that our first shipment was being distributed. We saw how grateful people were for any, even the simplest things they received. Not a single item was wasted, not one stolen or misused. To be sure, there is always a certain amount of bitterness in their feelings: what a shame it is that a once prosperous, free and great country has been reduced to, first, an all-feared superpower, and then, to being the world’s pauper. Yet, they accept our help, knowing that there is nothing humiliating in it, but a manifestation, we hope, of Christian brotherly love.
A Thank you letter
|Dear friends; We want to thank you all very much for your help. We have distributed the things you have sent among the needy, and everything has been put to good use. As you know, the situation here is very bad; stores are empty of all clothing and shoes, especially for children. Shipments of these things arrive at the stores very seldom, and the numbers of people who need to purchase them far exceeds the available supplies. Therefore, even those who could afford to pay for the things they need, do not have the opportunity to do so. For the adults this is not such a tragedy because we just keep wearing our old things, but the children grow out of their clothes very quickly. Of course, we try to share among ourselves; the clothes that our children grow out of, or the things we ourselves can do without, we try to give to those who need them. You have helped so many of us, and we are very grateful to you. But we are most grateful for your care, your love, your remembrance of us, and your desire to help. This is the kind of help that is most important: the knowledge that somewhere in the world, in distant America, we have brothers and sisters, who are thinking of us, praying for us, and to whom we can turn for help if things become too difficult. Knowing this is the most important thing to us. It helps us keep our faith and our love of life alive. Thank you. We would also like to be of use to you, and to be friends with you. Many of our brothers and sisters would like to invite to their homes those of you who would like to see Russia. If one of you would like to visit, please let us know, for we would love to have you. We will send an invitation, you will live in one of our homes, and we will try to make your stay as interesting as possible. This kind of trip, by personal invitation is significantly less expensive, and, we think, much more interesting. Please write to us! For now, you may write to: Sulimova Galina Fomichevy St. 16-6-117 123481 Moscow USSR When we become better acquainted we will send you other addresses. You may write in English, but please write legibly, since it is difficult to decipher handwriting in a foreign language. With all our best wishes, On behalf of the members of the congregation of Father Alexander Men: Galina Sulimova|