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Sioux Falls churches unite to help feed Ukrainian people

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Courtesy Photo
One of the many Ukraine families two Sioux Falls churches are helping by sending funds to Ukrainian pastors.

It’s been three weeks since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. And for families there each day is a struggle for survival. The stories of innocent Ukrainian civilians struggling to feed their children and evacuate make manySouth Dakotans wonder how they can help.

Two Sioux Falls churches are working together to get funds for food, fuel, medicine and other necessities to Ukrainian families.

The first Sunday Holbeck shared the opportunity to give, more than $39,000 was donated. Holbeck, Danilko and others are now working to spread the news so those wanting to help can.

When Jim Holbeck absorbed images and news stories of Ukrainian families struggling to evacuate, feed their children and say goodbye to loved ones – he wanted to help.

Holbeck is a former state legislator and retired Superintendent of Schools for the Harrisburg School District. He believes the best way to help was to somehow donate money to those in need.

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“There are some areas, and their stores are still being supplied with food and supplies. The problem is that a lot of people are not able to bring in any income right now. The men might be fighting, or their jobs are disrupted, and typically Ukrainian families are very, very large,” Holbeck says.

Holbeck was looking for a way to donate when he attended a meeting Westminster Presbyterian held with Light to the World Church. Light to the World is a Ukrainian church that hosts its services in Westminster’s building each Sunday afternoon.

“The Ukrainians have already sent a substantial amount of money from Light to the World Church over there. What they have done is use Western Union to do wire transfers of these dollars to minsters who get it immediately,” Holbeck says.

Yakov Danilko leads the effort for Light of the World Church.

“People can buy food. They can buy medicine. They can buy what they need because it is good if they have a suitcase. Most just grab their kids and go to the bus to get to the west side of Ukraine. I know many families who need help, and we send directly to these families. I know a family with 10 kids, and I call them and say, “how much do you need?” and we send that direct to the family. Not a third party,” says Danilko.

Not a third party. The money is routed straight to families in need or to Ukrainian pastors who then buy food or supplies for citizens in need. That’s the reason Holbeck decided to go this route with his giving.

“I am a pessimistic person when people call me on the phone and say, “hey, donate money to this cause or that.” Because I believe that there’s a lot of times people are making money off of pulling on people’s heartstrings…we asked how can we make sure that this is where it is going,” asks Holbeck.

Wiring money to pastors in the Ukraine is not new for Light to the World Church. Their small congregation of about 40 families already donates nearly $50,000 each year, explained Yakov Danilko.

Danilko has served as a volunteer pastor and is now the youth pastor for Light to the World Church. He left the Ukraine and emigrated to Sioux Falls as a refugee in 2001 because he was afraid. At the time, Ukraine was governed by the former Soviet Union.

“I started preaching when I was 18 years old. And some communists, guys who don’t like Jesus, started following me and try to put me in prison because I’m preaching about Jesus,” Danilko says.

Since the invasion he has been in constant communication with family and pastor friends. Most of what he hears is heart wrenching. Recently a pastor friend saw his young daughter killed when a Russian tank fired into his home.

“My friend sent a video and he is crying saying, “Why Putin come here? Why he kill my daughter?” Many, many, many people have same situation because they are bombed every night,” Danilko says.

The stories, videos and photos from pastor friends also share how the money donated helps Ukrainian churches provide shelter and food to Ukrainians on their way to safety. Or how fuel purchased by donations from Westminster Presbyterian and Light to the World is helping a pastor friend evacuate Ukrainians to safety in his Sprinter Van.

“They work 24/7. Doesn’t matter if it’s a member or just people who live around, they help bring some food, shelter them. Pastor Peter sent a video they come from the west side of Ukraine, pick up some food. Pick up food medicine everything they need. He turns around and brings a load of people who stay in his church overnight, he loads them in his Sprinter Van and goes to west border and drops them off and loads up food and everything and comes back to central. It’s a long drive between central Ukraine and west Ukraine. Central Ukraine, west Ukraine,” Danilko says.

Pastor Peter and other friends make this 850-mile trip to west Ukraine and back again nearly around the clock. Danilko says they are lucky if they get three hours of sleep before they are on the road again.

After the meeting with Westminster Presbyterian Church, a plan was put in place to make it simple for folks like Jim Holbeck to donate. Basically, donations can be made to Westminster Presbyterian Church and they pass the money on to Light to the World. Money is then wired and into the hands of those in need within a day.

“I truly believe the teachings of Jesus Christ are to help others…There’s a need right now. A desperate need by people who can’t help themselves – the Ukrainian people and I feel it’s a calling as Christians to lend a hand,” Holbeck says.

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Dollars raised by two Sioux Falls churches helps pay for food, fuel, medicine and other necessities. Volunteers in western Ukraine load Pastor Peter’s box truck with food and medicine that he will drive 850 miles back to central Ukraine and deliver to families in need.

To learn more or to donate, connect with Westminster Presbyterian.