Free store for Ukrainian newcomers moves its unique service to a bigger, new home

Shoppers browse through donations at the Free Store for Ukrainian Newcomers. As the store name states, there is no charge.  (Adrienne Lamb/CBC - image credit)
Shoppers browse through donations at the Free Store for Ukrainian Newcomers. As the store name states, there is no charge. (Adrienne Lamb/CBC - image credit)

An Edmonton store where people fleeing the war in Ukraine can shop for free for things like winter coats, shoes and essentials has moved into a new, larger location to accommodate growing demand.

"It's about building a community of love," said Janice Krissa-Moore, co-founder of the Free Store for Ukrainian Newcomers about the "beautiful" new space at 105th Avenue and 108th Street.

The non-profit outgrew its original location and partnered with Firefighter Aid Ukraine and MacEwan University to lease the new space, which MacEwan bought in 2017, she said.

The white, two-storey building used to be the Macrotronics Computer store. Now the 900-square-foot space is dotted with donations.

Rick Bremness/CBC
Rick Bremness/CBC

"People just kept bringing stuff and kept bringing stuff and more and more newcomers keep coming," said Krissa-Moore, a third-generation Canadian Ukrainian.

She estimates the centre has helped 5,000 people since opening almost a year ago.

WATCH | Get a feel for the Free Store for Ukrainian Newcomers 

You can see more in this week's edition of Our Edmonton on Saturday at 10 a.m., Sunday at noon and 11 a.m. Monday on CBC TV and CBC Gem. 

A steady stream of Edmontonians continues to drop off diapers, children's toys and kitchen gadgets. Almost as quickly, newcomers fill bags with items they need to start a new life.

"This was always about a hand up, not a handout. This is about replacing stuff that was left in Ukraine," said Krissa-Moore, who is vice-president of development with Junior Achievement of Northern Alberta & N.W.T.

When Samer Alsayed arrived in Edmonton with his wife and son last November, they needed winter coats to cope with what he described as "extreme" cold.

"I've never been in a place like this free store, where you can get a bag and do shopping and get whatever you want," said Alsayed. "It's really touching."

Rick Bremness/CBC
Rick Bremness/CBC

Originally from Syria, Alsayed has found work in a warehouse and helps at the store on his day off. He calls it his second home.

"To be a volunteer is amazing," said Alsayed.

Jorgia Moore, who works at an Edmonton children's charity co-founded the store with her mother. She spends all her spare time working alongside other store volunteers, doing things like communicating through the store's Facebook and web page about pressing needs.

"When we say we need diapers because we have a lot of babies coming through, we got tons of diapers," Moore said. "It's just really beautiful to see."

Adrienne Lamb/CBC
Adrienne Lamb/CBC

Right now, her hands are full organizing online sales of authentic Ukrainian food and hosting a fundraising dinner. Proceeds will be put toward the lease, buy snacks for volunteers and cover other operational expenses.

"Sometimes you feel very helpless and you don't know what you can do," said Moore.

"There is a lot that we can't do but there's always something that you can."

For Matthew Potts what he could do was food. The head chef at Cook County Saloon offered up his kitchen to a dozen Ukrainian newcomers.

"It was quite fantastic," said Potts, "they were singing and making perogies, and cabbage rolls and borscht all day".

Adrienne Lamb/CBC
Adrienne Lamb/CBC

Now Potts, originally from Samson Cree Nation, is collaborating with the free store volunteers again on a three-course fundraising dinner.

"It's very heartwarming, it's very beautiful to see everybody coming together, working together to make sure everyone is going to be alright."

Potts said the Bannock & Verenyk event will be a fusion of Ukrainian and Indigenous cuisine set for March 30 at Cook County Saloon.

LISTEN | What started as a temporary project is about to mark its first anniversary