OCA facilitates city-wide humanitarian campaigns benefitting Ukaine

Ukaine support picute

Office of Community Affairs team members attend faith leaders’ press conference urging Fresno residents to participate in city-wide special offering in their churches benefitting on-the-ground humanitarian efforts in Ukraine. (Photographed left to right: Alma Martinez, OCA Immigrant Liaison; Mykhaylo Skitsak, Ukrainian Fresno resident and Pastor BT Lewis, PARCS Liaison and OCA partner serving BIPOC communities).

As fighting broke out in Ukraine and millions in the country experienced the war’s effects, Fresno residents, especially those from the war-ravaged country, worried for their fellow countrymen. Mykhaylo Skitsak was one of them. Skitsak, a registered nurse at Fresno’s Community Regional Medical Center hospital, has called Fresno home since arriving from Ukraine 15 years ago.

Seeing his fellow Ukrainians’ suffering was Skitsak’s biggest motivator to mobilize aid efforts. “People were fleeing and traveling with barely anything, leaving everything behind and crossing borders to other countries,” said Skitsak.

City of Fresno OCA assisting aid calls
The concern for Ukrainians was felt among many Fresnans including City Hall. On March 1, Mayor Jerry Dyer and city councilmembers raised the Ukrainian flag on Eaton Plaza to show the city’s solidarity with suffering Ukrainians.

“In Fresno, we saw the Ukrainian suffering and wanted to show our solidarity. We want residents know we stand ready to assist our Ukrainian community through our Office of Community Affairs,” said Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer. The newly formed Office of Community Affairs, a department within the Mayor’s office, serves as a bridge to Fresno’s diverse groups and available resources in city hall and the greater community.

Skitsak reached out to the City’s Office of Community Affairs (OCA) for aid to the conflict area. Pastor Booker T. Lewis, Fresno PARCS outreach liaison teamed up with the OCA to call the faith community into action. Lewis leads southwest Fresno’s Rising Star Missionary Baptist Church and serves in several Fresno-area faith collaboratives.

OCA calls on the faith community to help
Lewis reached out to a small group of faith leaders, some who were already sending financial aid to Ukraine. The group quickly organized a voluntary campaign to raise special offerings at their respective houses of worship for on-the-ground humanitarian aid to Ukraine. “The group was very interested in ensuring that the aid get there fast. The fastest way was through financial contributions,” shared Lewis.

Pastor Jim Franklin, Senior Pastor at Cornerstone Church and one of the original campaign organizers, felt the urgency to help. “We have always served our community to meet needs here. So, when we saw the need internationally, we wanted to serve,” said Franklin.

To ensure a broad community campaign, Lewis also enlisted the Mayor’s Faith-based Partnership Cabinet, led by Dr. Randy White. Cabinet membership includes faith leaders from 26 Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, LDS, and Buddhist faiths.

“Organizations of faith have a responsibility when there is suffering in the world. We felt we had a moral obligation to respond to that suffering,” said White, who enlisted more than a dozen additional faith leaders to join the funding drive.

The special city-wide campaign ran from March 17 to April 3 and enlisted the participation of over a dozen houses of worship.

City-wide item collection drive for Ukraine
The pressing needs faced by Ukrainians fleeing their worn-torn country to neighboring Poland weighed heavily on Skitsak. He decided to jump into action once again and contacted a Ukrainian organization in Sacramento, CA who had already successfully sent a shipment of vital necessities to the Ukraine-Poland border zone.

Skitsak assembled a group of Fresno Ukrainians to welcome donated food, medical, self-care and clothing items to Cornerstone Church’s downtown warehouse. Over a six-day span in early April, the campaign collected and packed over 200 boxes of vital emergency aid that were sent to Sacramento and shipped via shipping container to Ukraine.

Skitsak shared his appreciation to the Office of Community Affairs for facilitating connections to aid newly arrived Ukrainians in Fresno. “The office was the place we could turn to to direct our needs and seek out help. The office also connected us to so many resources that were available from the community as a whole—from food banks to churches to non-profit organizations that deal with immigrants. That helped a lot,” shared Skitsak.

OCA connections to Ukrainian aid
The Office of Community Affairs is consistently connecting residents inquiring about aiding Ukraine. The OCA provides residents with information on social, health and legal aid services. For information and connections for Ukrainian arrivals to Fresno, contact the OCA’s Immigrant Affairs Liaison at (559) 621-7923.