Grande Prairie teacher looks to send Christmas boxes to Ukraine

Bilyana Coburn spoke to Grande Prairie city council last Monday (Oct. 17), looking for support in her efforts to collect donations for Ukraine.

Coburn, a teacher at St. Catherine Cathollic School, ran a similar campaign there at Easter, where she collected funds and donations that were then given to people in Novyi Yarychiv, Ukraine, west of Lviv.

Now, she’s looking to ensure Ukrainians left back home receive items for Christmas.

“There's an 80 per cent inflation on all the prices (in Ukraine), so most people can't afford things, and if we were to send money again, it just wouldn't work out as well,” said Coburn, noting the dollar will not go as far as it once did.

She said she is looking at putting together Christmas boxes for Ukraine through her school but would like to buoy those efforts by reaching out to residents of Grande Prairie. Coburn turned to council for guidance.

Coburn suggested a drop-off spot for donations could be designated at a city building.

Coun. Dylan Bressey said he supports donation spots but deferred her requests to administration to come back to council with recommendations.

“I don't want our city facilities to look like a drop-off for everything, so coming back with standard practices currently, and then we can have a discussion for consideration,” said mayor Jackie Clayton.

“I have three orphanages and two homes for the elderly, the reason I picked them is because they're outside of the bigger city of Lviv … and they don't get the support that the bigger cities get,” said Coburn.

She said Novyi Yarychiv has similarities to Grande Prairie although it is more rural. Coburn said it has an aging population as many of the younger citizens have fled the country.

Coburn is also assisting refugees: She has been teaching English to new arrivals and helping them get set up with the proper resources.

“Once you make it to Canada, there's a lot of support (and) I believe that, for the most part, people are feeling comfortable here and taken care of, so now my focus is mostly for the people that are left behind.”

Coburn’s campaign at Easter was a success, she said, with funds raised used for food as well as air conditioners, heaters, fridges, and three laptops that the centre keeps so refugees can contact family members.

She said letters came back from Ukraine expressing the people's gratitude.

“The biggest thing was they just loved the fact that it was all the way from Canada,” said Coburn.

In June, the city dedicated $100,000 to the Rotary Club of Grande Prairie to assist in aiding Ukrainian refugees arriving in the city.

As part of the fund, the city also developed a welcome package for newcomers that includes a recreation pass, a three-month transit pass, and information about the city and its resources.

While council figures out how to help, Coburn is hard at work collecting donations which can be dropped off at Troyana Dance Studio in Grande Prairie from Tuesday to Thursday, 4 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. and at St. Catherine Catholic School weekdays between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Items or boxes for children can include socks, hats, gloves, sweet treats, hot chocolate, soft toys, a flashlight with batteries, markers, colour pencils, craft item, and blankets.

Items or boxes for seniors can include the same as well as coffee, Advil and Tylenol, vitamins, and bedding.

Coburn noted to ensure items can be used when there is no electricity.

She is also that those who donate add $5 to go toward shipping.

People are encouraged to leave a note or a photo with their donations, so those receiving the package know more about benefactor.

Collections will be taken until Nov. 20, with the hope that the packages will arrive before Christmas.

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