A single bead became a symbol of the strength in unity as people and organizations around the world connect to provide aid to Ukraine and the refugees fleeing the war-ravaged nation.
After watching the invasion in her homeland, Cherry Hill-based artist Alexandra Sydorenko launched Beaders for Ukraine, an online drawing of donated jewelry and other handcrafted items from around the world.
The goal was to raise $ 5,000 to benefit Ukrainian relief efforts, she said. Within two weeks, the Facebook group exceeded $ 41,500.
“To me it also meant how tiny beads can be combined together to make a very strong and rigid structure. Just like the people of Ukraine, ”wrote bead artist Helena Tang-Lim of Singapore, penning a description of her donated artwork in the yellow and blue hues of the Ukraine flag. “Every bead is like a Ukrainian. Woven together and led by your very strong president, Ukraine and its people will be a strong cohesive force. ”
Across South Jersey, schools, churches, businesses, and organizations also found themselves connected in a string of grassroots fundraisers and donation drives to provide a vast array of assistance to those who remain in Ukraine and those displaced.
Granting on request
Responding to an emergency call more than 4,700 miles away, a retired Inspira Health Network Emergency Medical Services ambulance pulled up to the Slavic Baptist Orthodox Church in Vineland on March 23.
Weeks earlier, Inspira had donated medical supplies to the church, which includes several members of its staff. Those items were carried in duffle bags over the Hungary-Poland border in humanitarian mission led by deacon Vladimir Romanov.
While in Ukraine, the church group spoke with their front-line contacts and compiled a list of most urgently needed items, topped with an ambulance. It seemed such a big ask, but local pharmacist and church member Daniil Stetsenko took a chance. He reached out to Joe Hreno, the Inspira Health corporate director of the supply chain, who helped arrange the initial donation.
“What are the chances of you guys having a decommissioned ambulance somewhere in the corner, ‘” Stetsenko said.
“My dad always said it doesn’t hurt to ask,” he said. “If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be.”
Later that day and after some follow-up inquires, Inspira agreed to gift them a 20-year-old Horton no longer in service.
“It’s headed to a Ukrainian military hospital,” Stetsenko said, noting they’d been in touch with the facility’s health director, who will be glad to receive it.
Betty Sheridan, chief operating officer of Inspira Medical Center Elmer and Vineland, joined hospital officials and staff in a joyful transfer of the vehicle’s title and keys.
The Inspira EMS crew tucked a Ukrainian flag, flown at their Cedar Street headquarters in Millville, on the dashboard, said Benjamin Church, Inspira Health Network EMS operations manager. The “Inspira” logo was peeled from the vehicle, but the “Inspiring Care Across South Jersey” wrap remained intact.
The ambulance will be stocked with medical supplies before it shipped out. Inspira and the church members are working on a bilingual “owner’s manual” video to help its new operators.
How to help:
- Donations may be made at www.vsbchurch.org/ukrainian-aid
History lesson in real time
In 1975, former Vineland Public Schools social studies teacher Harry Furman, along with his colleagues Ken Tubertini and Richard Flaim, crafted a curriculum now a model throughout the country teaching the lessons of the Holocaust. The lesson plans focus on the impact of hatred, prejudice, and racism.
That syllabus was the genesis for Search for Conscience, one of Vineland High School most requested electives.
More:New Vineland High Holocaust exhibit to be ‘teaching tool’
“We practically never use a textbook in this class,” said student Itzel Herrera. “We always tend to talk about current events at the beginning of class.”
On Feb. 24, Russian President Vladimir Putin directed Russian troops to invade Ukraine, in what was the largest military offensive in Europe since World War II. Teens found themselves watching history unfold in real time on TikTok and other social media platforms.
News reports dovetailed into class discussions focused on how people during the Holocaust assisted the Jewish people, teacher Vicky Solomon said.
“Then we said, ‘What can we do to help the Ukrainians,’ ‘she said. “They ran with it to be honest with you.”
The teens, who grew up in a post 9/11 world with rampant school shootings and a deadly pandemic, said they’re more resigned to cope tragedy.
“I think our generation, we are not as surprised as people would assume that we would be,” Herrera said, referring to the raging war in Ukraine.
“We really can’t stay silent,” the 18-year-old said. “If we can do something, we’re going to try to do it.”
They converted their classroom into a donation depot, gathering items and then sorting items into four piles – personal hygiene, medical, baby products and miscellaneous. They are linking up with Slavic Baptist Orthodox Church and the Knights of Columbus Vineland Council to ship items to Ukraine and Poland, to help fleeing refugees.
Avian Henry, 18, looks at the death and destruction with gleaned insight of his Search for Conscience class discussion.
“Tolerance can be taught,” he said. “But it also has to be learned.”
How to help:
- Collection boxes are set up at the Landis Administration Building, 61 W. Landis Ave., Vineland, and local businesses, including the foyer of Barbera’s Chocolate on Occasion, 782 S. Brewster Road, Vineland.
- Deadline to donate is April 11. Students want to get items shipped before the school closes for Spring Break.
‘It is worth it’
“Two days after the Russian invasion, I was crying, shaking myself, ‘Woman, you have to do something,’ said Alexandra Sydorenko, who has a family in Ukraine. She tapped into a fundraiser concept previously used within the beader community.
“I can’t handle this by myself because I’m not so experienced in any kind of fundraiser, I always participate but never created one,” she said. Within an hour, Rachel Spence-Hungary in Colorado stepped forward with an offer to help and they set up a Facebook page, Beaders for Ukraine, now with 1.9K members.
“It started to grow like wildfire, people just jumping in,” she said.
Artists from around the world donated their work, including an artist in Russia, who was kept anonymous as a safeguard from danger. Many were inspired by the yellow and blue of the Ukraine flag or sunflowers, the nation’s symbol of peace.
Entry into the raffle was confirmation of a $ 10 donation to an organization providing aid to Ukraine and its people.
“All money, it doesn’t matter from which source, they will go to a direct charity, they will help,” Sydorenko said, noting many small contributions joined together can make an impact. “If it will make someone’s life even a little bit better, it’s worth it.”
Within two weeks, there were more than 540 donations, averaging $ 77, made to 39 charities, according to Beaders for Ukraine.
“It gives me chills, I’m shaking, I can’t express in my own worlds all the gratitude I feel to all those people who donated, who sent money, who sent jewelry, who just encourage us with nice words,” she said.
Sydorenko posted a thank you message to all those linked in the chain of compassion.
“Love, empathy and humanity have no borders and nationalities,” she said.
How to help:
Alexandra Sydorenko suggests these charities:
- International Fellowship of Christian and Jews. https://bit.ly/3qQt5RL
- Come Back Again, supporting the Armed Forces of Ukraine. https://savelife.in.ua/en/donate
Deborah M. Marko covers breaking news, public safety, and education for The Daily Journal, Courier-Post and Burlington County Times. Got a story idea? Call 856-563-5256 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter: @dmarko_dj Instagram: deb.marko.dj Help support local journalism with a subscription.