City of Grande Prairie puts $100,000 towards supporting local Ukrainian refugees

·4 min read

The City of Grande Prairie council approved up to $100,000 in funds to the Rotary Club of Grande Prairie to assist in aiding Ukrainian refugees arriving in the city.

The funding source - Strategic Priorities Initiative - was intended to make strategic decisions in areas of need as they arise, said Grande Prairie Mayor Jackie Clayton.

“We've been working to assist with the humanitarian crisis that's resulted from Russia's invasion of Ukraine,” said Joel Park, Rotary Club of Grande Prairie Ukrainian relief committee chair.

He said millions of Ukrainians have been displaced across Europe due to the invasion.

In Grande Prairie, approximately 24 refugees have arrived to date, said Park.

Interest is strong, he notes. Approximately 1,500 follow a Facebook page for refugees interested in coming to Grande Prairie. Park said the page was created about three weeks ago and sees about 60-70 families looking to join daily.

“There's multiple groups again across Canada doing (social media pages like this) so they may be trying to see in which community might be the best one for their family and their situation,” said Park.

“There’s no question that we could bring over a very large number of people, and I think ultimately, unfortunately, we're not going to be able to meet the needs of all of them.”

Park says approximately 330,000 applicants have asked to come to Canada; the federal government has approved about 140,000. According to Park, only 50,000 have managed to arrive in the country.

“Many of them were fleeing with literally nothing but the clothes on their back and maybe a small bag,” said Park.

When refugees arrive in Grande Prairie, the Rotary Club works with them so they can function in their new country, assisting with the process such as getting a social insurance number, health card, bank accounts, and a cell phone.

The Rotary Club is not helping facilitate air transport to Canada due to the high number of current scams, Park notes.

“There are unethical people everywhere, and if you're sending money overseas, it's problematic because we simply have no capacity to guarantee that they are who they claim to be,” said Park.

He noted many who arrive in Grande Prairie do not speak English. He believes about 10 per cent have functional English.

The Rotary Club has also worked with Northwestern Polytechnique to offer a space to teach English Second Language (ESL) courses. Teachers for the ESL course are volunteering their time.

Rotary is also helping refugees find a place to live, get set up with furniture, appliances, kitchen tools, and a job to continue on their own.

“Our Rotary Club, although we're fairly good at fundraising, we've burned through a lot of our cash,” explained Park.

“It costs about $2,500 to $3,000 for each family, between the various expenses that come along.”

Some of the refugees need additional help with mental health and therapy as they were fleeing active warzones, he said.

Additionally, childcare is also difficult for refugees as they do not qualify for daycare discounts from the government.

“I don't expect that the provincial or federal governments will get that problem resolved before the war ends,” said Park, adding this is why Rotary is approaching local government.

“The reality is that the municipalities are extraordinarily well-positioned to be able to pivot and assist quickly.”

He also plans to ask the County of Grande Prairie for its support.

Council directed administration to additionally report on gifts-in-kind, ESL classes, and potential connections with other service organizations the city can provide as part of the effort to help.

Clayton says refugees can help with labour shortages in the area.

“We have recognized as a region that there are labour shortages on the horizon and actual labour shortages today in our economy; these individuals, as they get integrated into our society, will be looking for jobs,” she said.

Currently, the Rotary Club has set up a website where residents can donate funds and goods to help Ukrainian refugees as they come to Grande Prairie at Park noted that the biggest fundraiser for the Rotary Club is the Dream Home lottery which helps initiatives such as this.

Jesse Boily, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Town & Country News