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Editorial: Strong support for Ukraine at church’s annual chicken BBQ

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began back in February, a small church in Riverhead has been the epicenter of getting help to the people of Ukraine and the millions of refugees who have fled the fighting.

St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church sits on Pond View Road, just off Roanoke Avenue. It is the home church for the large Ukrainian population on the North Fork and since February the church’s basement has been ground zero for relief efforts.

Father Bohdan Hedz said the church has shipped an astonishing 40 tons of relief supplies to Poland and Ukraine since February. That includes everything from clean clothes to sleeping bags to medical supplies. The supplies were boxed by volunteers working in the basement, while other volunteers drove several times a week to Newark Liberty International Airport for shipment on flights to Poland and Ukraine.

On Sunday, the church’s good works — and the support these works have received across the region — were on full display at its annual barbecue, which returned after a two-year hiatus during the pandemic. This year, the event served as a fundraiser so the church can keep sending supplies to where they are most needed.

More than 1,000 people from all over the North Fork and the East End came to the afternoon event. When we spoke to Father Hedz about the response, he said he was both surprised at the heavy turnout and very grateful so many people came. 

“This was all for Ukraine,” he said. “This will help us keep our efforts going. We are doing everything we can.”

Father Hedz was born in Ukraine, as were many members of the church. He speaks of the region where he was born as a place under siege. He talks to family members there every week. At each and every Mass in the church, with its Ukrainian icons on the walls, he and his parishioners pray for Ukraine.

On Sunday, many Ukrainians from across the region came to the event to show their support for the church, and beyond that for the people of Ukraine. More than 800 chicken dinners were served. Father Hedz said he did not yet know how much was raised, but every penny of it will be spent on Ukrainian relief.

Father Hedz, his church and congregants are bright lights during a time of war and death in Ukraine and political turmoil in America. We applaud Father Hedz, the church volunteers and those who came Sunday to show their support for Ukrainian relief.

The church’s work and its concern for people in harm’s way is a shining example for all of us. St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church is doing wonderful work and, for a small church on a side street in Riverhead, it is punching well above its weight.