BRODHEADSVILLE — It was two years ago The Catholic Light first reported of the incredible ministerial journey of Sandie Flannery of Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish in Brodheadsville, which began in 2009 when she accompanied friends to the Ukraine to adopt three children with Down syndrome.
Six years later, Flannery established the Orphan Outreach Ministry at her parish in the Poconos that continues to provide much-needed aid to destitute Ukrainian orphan children and young adults — many with severe disabilities and often subjected to deplorable conditions.
The hallmark of the support effort is an ambitious fundraiser Queen of Peace hosts to coincide with worldwide “Orphan Sunday” each November, as it collaborates with the DePaul Society of Ukraine which provides trained staff to serve the orphans’ needs.
A retired special education teacher and the mother of a daughter with special needs, Flannery routinely traveled two to three times a year to Ukraine to help provide educational, therapeutic and sensory materials.
For the first time since the pandemic lockdown in 2020, Flannery was allowed to visit two orphanages in August. Not surprisingly, the global health crisis has gravely affected the residents.
“The conditions of the orphans had declined,” Flannery related. “The DePaul staff were not allowed to work during that time due to COVID and the children really missed their attention and activities. Regular staff was reduced to a minimum, and there was not enough time for the extra love and attention they so sorely need.”
Compounding the program, Flannery said, are the country’s new orphan reform policies which have relocated and centralized the orphaned charges of the state. According to Flannery, the radical changes and disruptions have caused great distress and confusion among the orphans.
“Zulachchia is now the regional orphanage for all disabled children,” she said, “and many of the older men were transferred to the men’s Boarding House (institution in Synatyn) after living their entire lives in Zulachchia.”
Flannery had the opportunity to visit the Boarding House where many of the men recognized her. “It was so sad to see how very distressed they were and want to be transferred back,” she related. “Also, new children with lesser disabilities were placed with more disabled and these children want out!”
In Synatyn, Flannery noted, more than 300 men often spend their days sitting idly and “staring into space.” Due to these stark conditions, the Orphan Outreach Ministry has begun collecting soft “fidget toys,” such as poppits, to keep the orphans’ hands and minds busy.
Collection boxes for the fidget toys are located in Queen of Peace Church, with the goal being to amass 500 of the popular gadgets to provide for all children and adults in both settings.
In November, the annual parish Tricky Tray/Basket Raffle raised more than $10,000, which helped supplement DePaul’s budget and pay for a heated tile floor, in additional to crucial educational, therapeutic and medical equipment.
Despite the onset of the pandemic last year, the Orphan Ministry contracted to have two gazebos built on orphanage grounds, along with helping to pay for an industrial washing machine.
Most recently, Flannery spearheaded the packaging of essential supplies that were transported by United Ukrainian Relief Committee in Philadelphia to be shipped overseas in a cargo container.
“Some equipment will go to a rehabilitation center run by the Sisters of Mercy,” she explained. “Another cargo container will go out in January with more equipment currently in storage!”
Flannery emphasized donations of all kinds are accepted, suggesting that accessories no longer needed or outgrown by a loved one are most welcomed — especially good electric beds, wheelchairs, scooters, cell phones and tablets.
For more information, contact Sandie Flannery at (570) 350-9652, or the parish office at (610) 681-6137.