Virtua Health to Mark Ukraine Independence Day with Fundraiser Event
Three Generations of Local Ukrainian-American Family Developed Special Menu for Hospital Cafeterias
August 23, 2022 - As a health system dedicated to being Here for Good, Virtua Health will host fundraisers at all five of its hospitals on Tues., August 23, the day before Ukraine Independence Day. The cafeterias will serve Ukrainian meals – based on recipes provided by a Ukrainian-American colleague – and proceeds from the sales will be donated to reputable relief organizations through Virtua’s philanthropy team. Virtua hospitals are located in Burlington and Camden counties.
“I am excited to cook and have people taste. They will enjoy,” said Olena Pikhotska, a cook at Virtua Voorhees Hospital since its 2011 opening. The Ukraine native spent weeks planning the special menu with her daughter – a Virtua nurse – and her 85-year-old mother, a newly arrived Ukrainian refugee.
Olena, a resident of Berlin, N.J., has prepared thousands of meals for Virtua patients and staff through the years, but this is the first time she has been able to specifically highlight the food of her home country (details below). Olena learned many of these recipes during her childhood and young-adult years in Ukraine, before moving with her husband and children to the United States about 20 years ago.
Supporting Olena in this project are her daughter, Iryna Pikhotska of Lindenwold, N.J., and her mother, Galina Kovalska.
Remarkably, the Pikhotska family was able to bring 85-year-old Galina to the United States from Ukraine a few months ago. It was a harrowing journey involving multiple modes of transportation, military checkpoints, and petitioning to be recognized as a refugee. (Galina was ultimately issued a visa.)
“When we would FaceTime my grandmother, we could hear sirens and loud bangs. Sometimes the connection would cut out and we had no way of knowing what was happening,” Iryna said. “Although we’re grateful that she’s safe and we are now together, my grandmother never wanted to leave her home. My grandfather died earlier this year, and she can’t even visit his grave.”
Most of the women’s family remains in Ukraine, and have experienced incredible hardship recently due to the ongoing Russian invasion. In fact, Iryna has five cousins in the Ukrainian army.
“Every morning and every night, my one cousin texts his mom to let her know he’s still alive,” Iryna said.
For this bereaved family, making and sampling meals for the Virtua fundraiser has provided an opportunity to reminisce about – and feel connected to – their home country.
On August 23, the grilling stations at Virtua hospitals in Voorhees, Marlton, Mount Holly, Willingboro, and Camden will serve kielbasa with peppers and onions, accompanied by black bread. Other dishes will include stuffed cabbage, pierogis, potato pancakes, pickled vegetables, and borscht. (Borscht is a vividly red, beet-based soup that is believed to have originated in Ukraine and has become a staple across Eastern Europe.) The dessert station will offer apple strudel.
“We are extremely grateful that Virtua has created this opportunity, and that the staff is being so supportive,” said Iryna, who began her career as a registered nurse at Virtua Voorhees this month. “The war isn’t as prominent in the news anymore, but it’s still happening. People are losing their homes. People are losing their lives.”
Not-for-profit Virtua Health has lent its support to this human rights crisis in a number of ways over the past few months. It is one of several health systems to partner with the New Jersey Hospital Association to gather and ship much-needed medical supplies overseas.
Virtua also collaborated with MJ Corp, a printing and branding company, to create a special t-shirt with the words Here for Good in blue and yellow text, symbolizing the Ukrainian flag. Hundreds of Virtua colleagues have purchased the t-shirt throughout the spring and summer, with net proceeds going to organizations providing humanitarian aid to Ukraine residents. Virtua colleagues raised more than $6,000 through t-shirt sales, and MJ Corp donated an additional $1,000 toward the effort.
“It’s easy to feel helpless when confronted with challenges and conflict of this magnitude. And yet, I truly believe each of us has tremendous power to shape the world around us,” said Virtua President and CEO Dennis W. Pullin, FACHE. “There is something profound in our capacity to be the kind of people who actively advance good whenever possible.”