Huntington Area Now Supplying Ukrainian Refugees

Roughly 5,000 air miles away, a check for $3100 cut in Huntington has landed in the Vaucluse region city of Orange, France,  The money represents the cost of fueling one round-trip 18-wheeler truck bearing food, clothes, sanitary items and medicine for Ukrainian refugees huddled in Jaroslaw, Poland.

Orange and Jaroslow are sister cities, joined now by a heart for women and children who fled their homes in Ukraine to take shelter in Jaroslow as a brutal war sparked by Russia’s unprovoked invasion continues to rage. The people of Jaroslow were beginning to be overwhelmed by the burden of caring for the refugees, hence they reached out to Orange for help.
Thanks to a wonderful transplant from Orange to Huntington in the person of Dr. Sandrine Pierre, Ph.D., a biomedical researcher at Marshall University, our own Tri-State area has become part of that humanitarian supply chain.

Cropping out of my own strong feeling that the Huntington area needed to engage in the effort to help Ukraine defend its democracy and repel the Russian assault, I put the case to Huntington Mayor Steve Williams, who turned out to be “all ears.” He even came to our meeting wearing a tie in the Ukainian national colors of gold and blue.  “Get at least seven or eight good people together to form a committee,” he told me, “then we’ll see what we can do.”

The first person who came to mind was Pastor John Yeager at Enslow Park Presbyterian Church in Huntington.  He and his church community had already taken steps to support Ukraine, so John immediately signed aboard and became president of Sunflower Seeds, Inc.: Tri-State Aid for Ukraine.

John reached out to Dr. Pierre, whose response was an enthusiastic “Yes, I will help.”  She revealed to our group  that her city of Orange had an active supply chain going—and needed help.  Thus just as Jaroslaw had sought help from Orange, now it was Orange seeking help from Huntington.  To share the burden their citizenry had assumed.

Our first event was a teaching seminar on the Ukarine-Russia War held Feb. 24 at Enslow Park Presbyterian.  Talks were interspersed with stirring songs by a Huntington H.S. choral group.  The event ended with a moving Taize’ service of meditative chants and silences.  Prayers for Ukraine were floated on a small pool of water, lit candles on tiny rafts.

Speakers included Dr. Pierre, Dr. Victor Fet, Russian born Ukrainian citizen and also a professor in the MU biology department,  Robert McCollister, who holds Ph.D. in political science from The Ohio State University and an expert on Russian and Ukrainian history, and Mayor Williams.

The mayor disclosed that on March 3, 2022  he’d been part of a meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ board of directors where he and 42 other American mayors heard a stirring live video appeal for help by the mayor of Kyiv, Vitali Klitschko.

“On the other side of the world, bombs are dropping, children are being killed,” the mayor said. Quoting John Donne’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” Williams added: “Each man’s death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind.”

Thus far Sunflower Seeds has raised $9,000 toward a goal of $100,000 to support Ukrainian refugees. To help us reach that goal –companies, churches, civic groups and individuals—please see our website at or email me at or John Yeager

Benefit Prayer Service

A year ago on Feb. 24, war broke out in Ukraine. Since then, over 60% of the 44 million people in Ukraine have been affected by the effects of war.

Sunflower Seeds Inc. is a not-for-profit organization that is dedicated to helping those who have been displaced or stranded from their homes.

On Friday, the group hosted a benefit prayer service for Ukraine’s Defense of Democracy. The service gave the people of the Tri-State a chance to learn how the war has impacted the Ukrainian people and people in surrounding areas. Members of the Sunflower Seeds Inc. board spoke to the crowd about the possibilities that our area has to help these people.

“This is what I say, our kind of coming out party for Sunflower Seeds as a organization that has a simple purpose and that’s to get help to those refugees, period,” said Enslow Park Presbyterian Pastor John Yeager.

Yeager started the Sunflower Seeds organization with the help of the organization’s board members, Mayor Steve Williams and U.S. Rep. Carol Miller.

The organization was able to come together because of a few special people and events, the first being Sandrine Pierre.

Pierre is the interim director of the Marshall Institute for Interdisciplinary Research. She grew up in the city of Orange, France, which has today been home to hundreds of Ukrainian refugees.

The second is Williams. The day he thought he was attending a normal meeting with the Board of Directors of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, a group consisting of mayors from the largest to the smallest of cities in the U.S., they were included in a call with the mayor of Kyiv, Ukraine. Vitali Klitschko asked this board for its help.

These connections to the terror happening in Ukraine helped Sunflower Seeds come to be and gave the group a chance to spread its goals to local residents.

“If you’re gonna do something, reach for the stars, don’t go into any half measure,” said Williams. “If we’re going to make a difference then let’s make sure that we are doing things that are doing things to make a difference … If you want to do something, then do it significantly.”

After the time spent listening and learning about how troubled the people of Ukraine are, and it is possible for those in the Tri-State to help, Williams declared Feb. 24, 2023, “Stand With Ukrainians Day” in the city of Huntington.

“Tonight, as I was hearing them so many little things grabbed me, just kept speaking to me. There is something that is very special in this community,” said Williams. “We are a community of compassion. Is there a way to be able to help those folks on the other side of the world? We just so happen to have someone who grew up in Orange, France. There is a connection. The city in Poland is one fourth of the size of Huntington nearly. Why not us?”

The organization is looking forward to working with other groups and organizations in the area to widen its influence and raise as much money as it can for those in need. Sunflower Seeds Inc. is currently accepting donations and planning for future events and talks like Friday’s.