Posted February 23, 2023 in Featured News

Many organizations have stepped up in the 12 months since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in late February of 2022. Drives for food, funds and living necessities continue to this day and have shown just how kind and generous people can be.

At Enslow Park Presbyterian Church in Huntington, WV, their response to the war in Ukraine was almost immediate. They were the first church in the tri-state area to hold a prayer vigil in support of the Ukrainian people and democracy, a gathering that occurred just two days after the initial invasion. It was an obvious reaction to a story that quickly polarized the world.

“There’s a war, so we needed to pray for peace,” said John Yeager, the pastor at Enslow Park Church. “There’s also a huge humanitarian crisis and it’s underreported. The nightly news shows the bombs going off but nobody’s covering the humanitarian crisis.”

Feeling a need to address this situation, John and his friend and publisher Patrick Grace co-founded a non-profit organization called Sunflower Seeds Inc. While it is not officially affiliated with the church, John is the president, and the congregation is very supportive of this outreach.

“This has been God’s leading,” John said. “We didn’t know what we were doing and now here we are. Our mission is to raise awareness and the other is to raise resources, i.e. money.”

The goal for “Seeds” is to raise $100,000. Because it took seven months for “Seeds” to establish its mission and file for its 501c3 designation as a non-profit organization, the group has not had a chance to hit the fundraising trail too hard yet as the one-year anniversary of the invasion approaches. It has generated some funds, and the first donation from “Seeds” is being sent to an area that is housing some of the 8 million refugees displaced from the war.

“Seeds” is in partnership with the City of Orange, France, to provide clothing, food, medicine and sanitary supplies to Ukrainian refugees now living in Jaroslaw, Poland, a “Sister City” to Orange. To date, $2,700 has been collected through the fundraising efforts of “Seeds,” and these funds are enough to pay for diesel fuel for the round-trip delivery of the supplies from Orange to Jaroslaw.

“Seeds” is also connecting with MUkraine, a faculty-run group from Marshall University (MU stands for Marshall University) that has created 50 podcasts raising awareness about the crisis in Ukraine. Every week, they interview individuals from around the globe who are knowledgeable about the “truth on the ground.” They also distribute a daily email under the name “Empathy for Ukraine” that shares heart-wrenching personal accounts associated with the cruel reality of the war.

By partnering with MUkraine as they provide awareness, “Seeds” will assist the organization with financial resources to help them expand their outreach efforts.

Another way of creating awareness was through a prayer service that was held at Enslow Park Church on Feb. 24, the one-year anniversary of the first Russian strike on Ukraine. More than 100 people turned out, with the city mayor, local high school choir and a candle lighting all part of the service and $3,000 in donations collected to support “Seeds.” (Click here to view a recording of the service.)

Looking ahead, John hopes to connect with area churches and urge them to hold gatherings like a dinner that would include a raffle with the proceeds going toward “Seeds.” John and members of the non-profit would be on hand to share the story of the organization while also raising awareness to the needs of the Ukrainian people.

As this war pushes into year 2, many people have unfortunately become numb to the story. John hopes his work through Sunflower Seeds Inc. will keep people aware of what is occurring in Ukraine and with those directly affected by the Russian invasion there.

“From a personal perspective, it’s not only praying for some resolution but actually getting some skin in the game and getting these donations to where they are needed,” John concluded.

The mayor of Huntington, WV, holds a proclamation for Sunflower Seeds Inc. while standing with other local officials during a prayer service at Enslow Park Presbyterian Church. The gathering was held on the one-year anniversary of the first Russian strike on Ukraine.