Local Catholics gather medicine, other supplies to help Ukrainians

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Local Catholics gather medicine, other supplies to help Ukrainians

Parishes and schools around the archdiocese are responding to the plight of Ukraine by holding drives and collections for much needed supplies that will be shipped to Poland and Ukraine. On March 9, 2022, over 30 volunteers collected and sorted supplies for organizations in Poland that are currently helping care for refugees crossing over from Ukraine as well as those currently in Ukraine at St. Hyacinth Basilica. St Hyacinth partnered with the Junior Board of the Polish American Medical Society and the Legion of Young Polish Women for the event. Parishioners of St. Julie Billiart Parish in Tinley Park packed up 30 tables worth of items the parish collected in two days to donate to Sts. Peter and Paul Ukrainian Church in Palos Park that will be sent as humanitarian aid to the people of Ukraine on March 9, 2022. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Dr. Evelyn Konsur and Melanie Chetverikova sort through supplies at St. Hyacinth on March 9. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Piotr Senkow seals up boxes ready for shipping. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Trauma emergency kits were part of the donations coming in. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Janusz Rozanski organizes what donations are coming in before being sorted in the other room. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Natalia Emry and Lucy Wolf sort through personal items and medical supplies. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Kasia Murzanski and Natalia Ladzinska, coordinators of the donation drive, work on shipping labels. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Dr. Nikitaa Nath sorts through donated medicine. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Gauze is sorted by type. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Emily Hendrix carries a box ready for shipment. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Lucy Wolf sorts through personal items and medical supplies. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Two volunteers look over a donation of medical boots. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Emilia Gibes and Karolina Senkow organize late arrival donations close to the end of the evening. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
A handmade teddy bear was donated to add comfort to a young victim in Ukraine. Parishioners of St. Julie Billiart Parish in Tinley Park packed up 30 tables worth of items the parish collected in two days to donate to Sts. Peter and Paul Ukrainian Church in Palos Park that will be sent as humanitarian aid to the people of Ukraine on March 9, 2022. Nearly a dozen volunteers packed their trucks and cars with boxes and bags of medical and survival items and made multiple trips to Sts. Peter and Paul Ukrainian Church to donate the items. From there, Sts. Peter and Paul will ship the donations to Eastern Europe for people still in or fleeing Ukraine. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Volunteers sort donations. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Kim Duffy places diapers onto a cart. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Volunteers sort donations. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Deacon Ed Pluchar, Dave Dobryznski and Pat Duffy load a truck with boxes. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Brian McCleish carries donations to his van. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Neno Babic, Dave Dobryznski and Tom Ortega arrange boxes into a car. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Neno Babic, Tom Ortega and Brian McCleish arrange boxes into their vehicles for transport. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

They came in cars and in trucks, wheeling in boxes and hauling bags up the stairs.

They brought over-the-counter medicines, bandages, hydrogen peroxide and cotton balls. They brought flashlights and batteries, toothbrushes and toothpaste, socks and underwear. Stuffed animals and hand-drawn cards with messages of encouragement.

The scene at St. Hyacinth Parish’s Resurrection Hall on March 9 included piles of goods to be sorted, volunteers taping boxes and, in a steady flow, people bringing in more goods to help people in Ukraine and Ukrainian refugees who have made it across the border into Poland.

“Moms are leaving with their children, and they don’t have anything,” said Anna Krzeptowski-Sabala, who came to the United States from Poland in the 1980s, leaving her parents behind. “They don’t know when they can go back, and they’re leaving the fathers behind.”

Krzeptowski-Sabala and her daughter, Kathy Krzeptowski-Sabala, who worship at Our Lady Mother of the Church Mission in Willow Springs, drove two pickup trucks full of supplies they collected from friends and neighbors from Willow Springs to St. Hyacinth Basilica Parish, 3636 N. Wolfram St.

When they arrived, Anna Krzeptowski-Sabala bent to the floor, sorting boxes of toothpaste and soap into the piles volunteers had already set up.

“We are here, but this is something we can do,” she said. “If I was there, I would probably be sitting there crying anyway.”

The collection of donations for refugee relief was organized by Natalia Ladzinska, a long-time parishioner at St. Hyacinth and member of the Legion of Young Polish Women, and her friend Kasia Murazanski, a member of the Junior Board of the Polish American Medical Society.

“My friend Kasia and I really wanted to do something once we saw the war,” Ladzinska said. “Very quickly we started seeing so many people in need.”

As of March 15, the United Nations Organization that deals with refugees said nearly 3 million Ukranians had fled their country.

Ladzinska approached St. Hyacinth Parish, which is both centrally located and trusted in the Polish community. The pastor offered space to collect and hold donations. The Legion of Young Polish Women, a group organized in the United States to send relief to Poland during and after World War II, and the Junior Board of the Polish American Medical Society began to spread the world. The first day of collections was set for March 3, a week after the Russian invasion of Ukraine began.

The final collection day was originally set for March 9, but the overwhelming response led Ladzinska and Murazinski to schedule one more day, March 13.

“After that, we’ll probably have to pump the brakes and work on shipping out what we have,” Ladzinska said, looking at stacks of boxes already packed and labeled.

The first shipment — medical supplies and survival equipment — was set to go the following week on a cargo plane being sent by the Ukrainian Medical Association of North America. The groups are also working with local shipping companies and international relief agencies such as Caritas and the International Red Cross to plan for subsequent shipments.

“As you can imagine, the logistics are very fluid,” said Ladzinska.

The goods have been dropped off by people from all over the Midwest, said Evelyn Konsur, president of the Junior Board of the Polish American Medical Society, and some donations have been sent directly from online retailers by people on the East Coast.

Konsur, a pediatrician who is doing her fellowship in allergy and immunology at Rush University Medical Center, kept an eye on volunteers with some medical knowledge who were sorting medical supplies.

She said the plight of the Ukrainian refugees is familiar to people in Poland and Polish people in the United States.

“A lot of our parents grew up in the post-war period and our grandparents during World War II,” she said. “They see what’s happening on TV, and they understand that hardship.”

“This is all very real and fresh with us,” Ladzinska agreed. “That sort of pain that we grew up understanding is still very much in us.”

Also, she said, European countries are smaller. It might be easier for Americans to think of it being like the next state over, she said.

“They are our neighbors,” said Ladzinska. “They are our friends across the border. Both Poland and all the countries taking refugees just want to help.”

Kathy Krzeptowski-Sabala said the following week, she and her family would be putting together more packages. Those will go directly to relatives still in Poland, who volunteered to take refugees into their home.

Melanie Chetverikova was among the medical students sorting equipment. She and her boyfriend are both Ukrainian, she said, and he has relatives living in Ukraine.

“They’re all accounted for,” she said on March 9. “All you can do is wake up and call them and hope they answer.”

Then, she said, you can spend time getting supplies ready to go to eastern Europe.

Deacon Ed Pluchar of St. Julie Billiart Parish in Tinley Park said he thinks that sense of helplessness is one reason so many people have been moved to donate items to Ukrainian refugee relief.

Pluchar’s wife,  Sheila,  is director of outreach for the parish, and when she heard about Sts. Peter and Paul Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Palos Park collecting goods to send to Ukrainian refugees, she printed a flyer to be distributed at Masses on March 5 and 6.

By March 9, the parish had 30 tables of goods and about a dozen volunteer drivers lined up to take them to Sts. Peter and Paul.

“The stuff has just been pouring in for the last two days,” he said. “People were looking for a way to help Ukraine and didn’t know how to do it. It’s been all over the news, and it feels like it’s close to home. There’s a lot of people in our parish who have relations who are from eastern Europe. The publicity with families and women and children being evacuated, families being broken up, babies on TV … people want to do something.”

Mary Hyland, interim principal of St. Jerome Catholic School, 2801 S. Princeton Ave., said the babies especially seemed to touch the hearts of her school families. The school collected items to drop off at St. Hyacinth, and many, many families brought packages of diapers.

“They all have young kids, so they know,” Hyland said. “Diapers are big. You can’t pack them. You can’t take a lot.”

Hyland emailed school families March 6 after hearing about the collection from a parent who is Polish. Helping the Ukrainian refugees fit perfectly into St. Jerome’s emphasis on service, something that is being stressed even more heavily this year in honor of the school’s centenary.

“Service and giving back is a big part of our identity every year, but especially this year,” she said. “I sent that email out on Sunday, and on Monday we were already getting donations. Our community is eager to help those in need.”

Many of the people who dropped off donations at St. Hyacinth heard about it in similar ways.

“I saw it on Facebook,” said one woman who dropped off a carload of supplies from her neighbors in the Andersonville neighborhood. “I have a friend who’s Polish. I told my neighbors, and here we are.”

She looked at the pile of donations waiting to be sorted, and at the bags at her feet.

“I can sort these,” she said.

Some parishes and other institutions are raising money to help people in Ukraine and Ukrainian refugees.

At St. Jerome Parish, 1709 W. Lunt Ave., Father Noel Reyes, the pastor, played a slide show of images from Ukraine with the hymn “Heal Our Land” as a reflection after Communion during Masses the weekend of March 5-6.

Parishioners dug deep into their pockets and purses, contributing nearly $4,500, or about two thirds of the parish’s normal weekly collection.

“It really touched the hearts of the people,” Reyes said. “I preached about this, I wrote about it in the bulletin. We are doing a spiritual alliance with the people of Ukraine.”

The Slovenian Catholic Mission in Lemont, operated by the Franciscans at St. Mary’s Monastery, is funneling donations directly to the Ukrainian Franciscan province, said Deacon John Vidmar, director of Baraga St. Mary’s Retreat House on the campus of the monastery and mission.

The Ukrainian Franciscans set up a bank account in Poland before Russia invaded their country, in anticipation that war was coming, Vidmar said. The Slovenian Franciscans are wiring donations directly into that account, which is being used to support Franciscan monasteries in Ukraine that are housing internally displaced people and to help Catholic institutions in Poland that are helping refugees, who are mostly women and children.

“All up and down their 800-mile border, there are churches and Catholic institutions reaching out,” Vidmar said. “They have people sleeping in religious education buildings.”

The pastor announced the effort March 6, and donations began to arrive immediately. Vidmar said many Slovenian Americans arrived as refugees following World War II.

“They see this as their time to give back,” he said.

Anyone wishing to donate that way can send a check to: Franciscan Fathers (memo line should read Ukrainian Aid), P.O. Box 608, Lemont, IL 60439, Vidmar said.

Visit  for updates on ways to help Ukraine.



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