OCA Response To Humanitarian Aid Needs In Russia
By Arlene Kallaur
In October of 1990, after more than 70 years of persecution, freedom of religious practice was restored in the Soviet Union. My husband and I had the good fortune to be in Moscow at the time, and to participate in the church services that gave thanks to God for this miracle. During the four months we spent there, we witnessed the openings of churches, of church schools and the huge undertakings of renovations and rebuildings.
Within this renewal of spiritual life, we were especially impressed with the Church’s concern for the sick and the needy. Even before the law of religious freedom was officially announced, the Church went to work in hospitals, prisons, orphanages, began to set up a rehabilitation program for alcoholics and drug addicts, and to help the aged and unemployed in obtaining food and medication.
To facilitate these activities, the Patriarch of Russia, Aleksy II, blessed the revitalization of “bratstva” or fellowships that had existed in pre-Communist years to spearhead the various social and educational ministries of the Church. He urged every parish to have such a fellowship, and to find what it could especially undertake as a ministry.
As we witnessed this great awakening, we also saw how few resources the Church had at its disposal to accomplish this overwhelming task. Lack of food, medication, money, materials, training and manpower - these are the realities that they have to deal with.
As the newly formed Commonwealth of Independent States has turned to the western world for help and assistance in changing its basic structure, the Russian Orthodox Church has also looked to the West for assistance and humanitarian aid. Churches, groups and individuals throughout the world have responded. The Orthodox Church in America has been given the unique opportunity to help her Mother and now Sister Church in this holy work. It has taken up the challenge.
METROPOLITAN THEODOSIUS BLESSES HUMANITARIAN AID EFFORTS
Metropolitan Theodosius blessed the collecting and sending of humanitarian aid to Russia and other Eastern European countries with the announcement of the first large-scale donation of medications to Russia on Nov. 20, 1991. He made the announcement in Washington, D.C. at a breakfast honoring Patriarch Aleksy during his visit to the United States. Representatives of various governmental and private relief organizations were in attendance.
The Orthodox Church in America, working in cooperation with Brother’s Brother Foundation, a professional relief agency, purchased $050,000 worth of medications and medical supplies from Interchurch Medical Association for approximately $6,000. These medications were flown to Russia by military transport under the supervision of Project Hope, an organization that has a government contract for this purpose.
The medications were designated for five hospitals, two in Moscow, one in Tver, one in Kirov, and one in Novosimoirsk. Dr. Nicolas Poloukhine, OCA medical advisor in this project, Mr. Luke Hingson, Director of Brother’s Brother Foundation, and I met the plane as it landed in Moscow and participated in the initial distribution of goods. During this stay we also met with Archbishop Sergei, Chairman of the Department of Charity and Social Services of the Russian Orthodox Church. We worked out with him and his staff a proposal for needed food, types and quantities, that we could submit to the US Department of Agriculture.
CONTRACTS FOR FOOD WITH THE US DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
After several meetings with the Department of Agriculture, two contracts were signed with them for food distribution by Brother’s Brother Foundation (a private voluntary organization with the Government) in which the Orthodox Church in America and the Russian Orthodox Church had key roles.
1. The first contract was for 2,000 tons of dried milk to go to school children in St. Petersburg. In this contract the Russian Orthodox Church was designated as co-receiver of the milk. The role of the Church in this instance was to help monitor the distribution of the milk. Fr. Daniel Hubiak, our OCA representative in Russia, and Fr. Vladimir Sorokin, head of the Humanitarian Relief for the Church in St. Petersburg, met the first shipment of 400 tons that came by plane on February 10, 1992 and participated in the initial distribution. Fr. Sorokin will continue to help monitor the distribution of milk as it comes. Fr. Hubiak will check back periodically to see how the distribution is going.
2. In Washington, on February 10, 1992, the OCA entered into formal agreement to provide $17 million in food supplies to Russia. Representatives of the US Department of Agriculture and Brother’s Brother Foundation signed the contract. Jonathan Russin, OCA legal counsel, and Rev. Constantine White of St. Nicholas Cathedral were present for the signing. A sub-contract outlining the roles of the Orthodox Church in America and the Russian Orthodox Church was then signed by Metropolitan Theodosius, Patriarch Aleksy II and Mr. Luke Hingson.
This contract provided for the shipping of 12,000 tons of food to Russia as part of President Bush’s initiative to provide $165 million in food aid. The food included dried milk, infant formula, vegetable oil, beans, peas, lentils, flour, rice, and butter. It was shipped by sea and went to five cities in Russia as designated among the most needy by the US Government: Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kaliningrad, Ufa and Chelyabinsk (east of the Urals). The food began to arrive in May and was distributed by the Russian Orthodox Church with the help of the OCA through its representative, Fr. Hubiak.
Especially since the collapse of the communist government of the USSR in August, of 1991, parishes, groups, and individuals - Orthodox and non-Orthodox alike, have been calling the Chancery, wanting to help in some way the people in Russia and in the other Republics of the former Soviet Union.
In response to these calls, a letter went out from the Chancery in late January, 1992, to all parishes and FOS members, outlining the program the Orthodox Church in America would undertake. It asked parishes and individuals to gather food, medications and/or money for Russia. A second letter was sent out on March 26th, explaining how the goods were to be packaged, and giving the schedule for pick-up of the goods.
The food and medications went to warehouses in Pittsburgh, PA and Hartford, CT. An OCA member, Mr. Joseph Semon, President of Casket Shells, Inc., of Eynon, PA, called and generously offered the use of his trucks to make pick-ups along their trucking routes.
The parish contributions were most heartening. The food and medications they gathered amounted to 162,000 lbs. valued at approximately $225,000. Well over 730 parishes, military chaplaincies and individuals made monetary contributions of over $100,000.
Beside? the donations that have come through the national church, we know that many parishes and individuals have sent tons of food, medications and clothing on their own. The Albanian, Bulgarian and Romanian dioceses have also been very actively offering aid to the countries of their ethnic roots.
The benefits of the parish appeal have been a reaching out and a new link with brothers and sisters in the former Republics of the Soviet Union. The Parish-to-Parish Program under the direction of Fr. Joseph Fester is getting started and will continue to Build these bonds. The appeal has also kindled a new awareness of the need for Christian outreach as an important and regular part of parish life.
EXAMPLES OF HELP
Some examples of the variety of aid that has been offered include
a fisherman from Massachusetts offering a ton of frozen herring.
individuals canvassing their local food stores and pharmacies for donations.
a Senior Citizen’s Center calling to offer extra wheelchairs, crutches and walkers.
a doctor donating an anesthesia machine.
a pharmacist from one parish collecting funds and with them, buying drugs wholesale.
hospitals, contacted by individuals in parishes, offering used equipment that is still in good condition.
a Benedictine abbey providing 600 tinned fruit cakes.
non-Orthodox churches in places like Jermyn, PA, Lake Worth, FL, Atlanta, GA and Long Island, NY, to name a few, having drives and contributing their gatherings to the Orthodox appeal, building up good will in the local community.
In addition to the basic aid of money and material goods, there have been other areas of cooperation; there have been educational exchanges with the Russian Orthodox Church to snare with them methods and materials in the development of their church school program; the OCA Youth Department has been involved in the training of church youth leaders in Russia. For the second summer, Fr. Matusiak, the OCA Youth Director, will take a group of OCA youth to Russia to spend two weeks with Russian youth in a camping situation that also involves volunteer work in hospitals, orphanages, and soup kitchens. (In 1991, he brought a group of Russian students to the VS, but in 1992 the cost for the Russians was too prohibitive.) The seminaries have also welcomed a number of students from Eastern Europe in their enrollment, granting them scholarships to study her.
FORMATION OF THE IOCC
One of the most important results of the humanitarian aid efforts has been the formation of the International Orthodox Christian Charities. The Patriarch’s visit brought Orthodox hierarchs together physically as never before, and his plea for unity among the Orthodox jurisdictions in America fell on “fertile ground.”
Under the auspices of the Standing Conference of Orthodox Bishops in America, IOCC was formed through which all the Orthodox jurisdictions in SCOBA would work together to provide aid and relief to the people of Eastern Europe. The organization will also offer aid to the needy in all parts of the world as specific requests arise. Mr. John Ranges Sr. was elected Chairman of IOCC. Fr. Robert Kondratick, Mr. Charles Ajalat, Mr. Andrew Athens and Fr. Alexander Karloutsos are the founding members of the Board.
A first order of business of IOCC was the hiring of Alexander Rondos, an Orthodox Christian, as Director of IOCC. Mr. Rondos’ credentials include working for the past 10 years with Catholic Relief Services in setting up many of their programs. Mr. Rondos’ visits to Moscow in the Spring helped gear up the Russian Orthodox Church for the kind of monitoring and accounting procedures that the US Government requires for its food donations.
Mr. Rondos has reported that as the food and parcels have begun to arrive, Fr. Hubiak and the IOCC staff in Moscow, working with Archbishop Sergei and his staff have admirably handled the distribution and accounting procedures. The US Government has been pleased with their work. This sets a good record when asking for future grants.
The IOCC, in addition to sending the parish food parcels by, sea, has provided two airlifts. Even as it was being formed, Mr. Ranges, the Chairman, secured a Department of Defense military place through the office of Congressman Murtha and filled it with food, medications and medical supplies. Donations from corporations in the Pittsburgh area and through Brother’s Brother Foundation made up 150,000 lbs. with a value of $3.8 million, The plane left Pittsburgh on Friday, February 28th. Metropolitan Theodosius was there to bless the journey.
A second airlift out of Pittsburgh took place on Thursday, May 28th and contained the medical supplies gathered by the parishes as well as medications, medical supplies and equipment donated by a number of companies and hospitals. The plane earned 80,000 lbs. of donated goods at a net worth of $1 million.
FUTURE PLANS / WHAT YOU CAN DO
There will be an OCA Fall Program for Relief Aid and Technical Assistance as dire needs in Russia and in Eastern Europe will continue for some time to come. Parishes and FOS members will be receiving letters detailing the renewed efforts. As an ongoing project, however, here are ways you can help - as a parish, as an individual:
1) Pray for these efforts and for the Orthodox Churches in Russia and in all the countries of Eastern Europe. The work and the way are fraught with so many obstacles that only through the grace of God can any of this succeed and be truly helpful.
2) Seek donations of money. Think of creative and fun ways to raise funds, e.g. walkathons, talent shows, food booths, a Russian boutique, etc. (Money is the most efficient and cost effective means of help. Taking into account the favorable exchange rate, the dollar can buy much more than the ruble. We will continue to send food, but primarily that which is given to us through government grants.)
3) Seek donations of medicines, medical supplies and equipment. Make sure that any expiration date on medications is at least a year in advance.
4) Identic in your parish, doctors, nurses, hospital administrators, workers in the various social services who might be willing to share their expertise with their Russian counterpart, and send this information to the Office of Humanitarian Aid at the Chancery. (As needs in other skills arise, we will inform the parishes.)
5) Welcome newcomers from the Eastern European countries to your parish. Seek ways to help them get settled and feel at home in your parish and in their new community.
This review of some of the Orthodox participation in relief efforts to Russia and Eastern Europe to date is to let you know that the OCA and all Orthodox jurisdictions are seriously committed. Judging by the enthusiastic and heartfelt response from so many people thus far - this despite our own economic problems here in America - we have great hope for continued strong support.