Skaneateles UMC’s unique ministry to help Ukrainians
If you would have told Justin Hood, pastor of Skaneateles UMC, that he would one day spend several hours making pierogies, he would have looked at you as though you were crazy. But when there is a need, Justin and his congregation do whatever it takes to meet that need.
When Russia first invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, the members of Skaneateles UMC felt driven to help the Ukrainians as the war escalated each day since. They were aware of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) advances that could provide direct assistance to those in Ukraine as well as assistance to Ukrainians fleeing to neighboring countries. They immediately pulled their minds together to determine how they could fundraise for these advances.
Marty, a member of Skaneateles UMC, told the congregation about his Ukrainian co-worker, Natalia, whose mother was forced to flee Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city that has been devastated by striking missiles.
Natalia agreed to teach Justin and members of the Skaneateles UMC how to cook Ukrainian food so that the church could sell authentic Ukrainian meals to raise funds to help Ukrainians.
Natalia taught Justin and Skaneateles UMC members how to cook chicken kiev, pierogies, vegetarian cabbage rolls, and cottage cheese doughnuts with raspberry.
Justin and his planning team decided to sell Ukrainian take-out meals to members of the community for $12 a meal on Saturday March 26. They started spreading the word on social media and the response was astounding!
The church sold 300 pre-sale tickets.
Justin said, “It’s amazing how the congregation and community came together. We felt really blessed to have this. We only advertised this by word of mouth and social media. We had 12,000 views of our Facebook advertisement of this fundraiser and 110 shares!”
Justin encouraged all churches to take advantage of social media.
Genelle Peebles, a member of Skaneateles UMC, helped Justin plan this event. Together, they calculated the quantities of ingredients they needed and did the shopping, in addition to helping with cooking and serving.
Genelle said, “Many hands were involved. Our church members really stepped up to this event. It was so heartwarming; because of COVID, we hadn’t done an event like this in a long time.”
Church member, Rob Searles, added, “This project was so inspiring, members and strangers working side-by-side with new friendships forming.”
All church members expressed gratitude about the community support that was involved;
Genelle said, “We couldn’t have done this without the community support. The community was amazing. Ed Moro allowed us to use his kitchen (Moro’s is an Italian restaurant next to the church); Doug’s Fish Fry provided us with steamers. I can’t emphasize how instrumental this community was. This event couldn’t have worked out any better. Clearly, God was involved.”
Justin’s goal was to sell 400 Ukrainian meals.
Rob said, “Justin is the definition of an optimist. He thought our goal of 400 meals was very attainable. I must confess, I raised my eyebrows in doubt at one point”
Skaneateles UMC’s Ukrainian meals sold out in two hours, with 425 total meals sold. And the church raised more than $12 a meal; because of generous added donations, the church raised $8,000 to go directly to Ukrainians.
Justin said, “Our church's missions team donated all of the food costs, so 100% of this money will bring food, medicine, and shelter to Ukrainians still facing hardship in Ukraine and Ukrainian Refugees in Poland.”
The added benefit of this ministry was the opportunity for Justin to connect with his neighbors and community.
Justin was appointed to Skaneateles UMC at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in July of 2020, a hard time to get acquainted with the community.
He was recently dining out with his wife, Emma, at a local restaurant, Good Eats, and the owner approached them and said, “Everybody is talking about you guys!”
Genelle said, “This was such a great way for Justin to meet the community. He works harder than anyone I know. This ministry reminds me of the loaves and fish story in the Bible. I can’t give Justin enough kudos. He is such a breath of fresh air!”