Volunteers in Edmonton and Calgary organize efforts to help Ukrainians

·3 min read
Kimberley Karpenko with some of the toiletries and other donations that she has assisted in gathering for Ukrainians coming to Alberta.  (Kimberley Karpkeno - image credit)
Kimberley Karpenko with some of the toiletries and other donations that she has assisted in gathering for Ukrainians coming to Alberta. (Kimberley Karpkeno - image credit)

When Kimberley Karpenko had the chance to host a Ukrainian couple fleeing the war, it was an easy decision.

"I could either sit and watch the news and be sad and worried, or I could reach out to do something," said Karpenko, who lives in Calgary.

But she soon realized it was challenging to find information to help her host the family.

Now, a network of volunteers in Edmonton and Calgary is aiming to make things easier for future hosts and their Ukrainian guests by compiling relevant information in a digestible format and sharing their experiences.

Michael Thomas, who lives in Edmonton, helped spearhead the effort. When Russia attacked Ukraine, he wanted to help Ukrainians coming to Canada, fleeing the violence.

"I wanted to help more and I couldn't put people in my house – it's too small and there's no renovated space for extra family," he said.

"So I wanted to use my skills and my position to help in some other way."

Thomas feared that Ukrainians in Alberta would not be given sufficient supports and that Canadians who wanted to help might not know what to do.

He focused his efforts on connecting different Canadian organizations that wanted to help Ukrainians, potential hosts and Ukrainians who were coming to Canada.

"I wanted to prepare hosts with information, so they [were] not surprised by some differences in culture or resources."

A lot of his work is finding and compiling information that can be shared with the right recipients.

Social media connection

He started a Facebook group for Ukrainians and Canadians who wanted to help them to exchange information and connect.

This group, Karpenko said, really highlighted that many hosts were experiencing similar problems.

"We had a collection of hundreds of people all trying to go through the same process not knowing the exact order of this stuff," Karpenko said.

Volunteers worked collectively. They shared information and their knowledge, allowing those hosts and volunteers that came after them to benefit from their experience.

Heather Foisy, a host in Calgary, said the Facebook group is an important tool to connect Ukrainians and Canadians.

"I know that social media gets a bad rap from time to time, but in this situation, it has really succeeded for our family and for helping a lot of other families," she said.

This kind of information sharing is helpful both for spreading awareness about different avenues to help Ukrainians in Alberta, and for taking the stress off volunteers. It also helps those who are thinking about volunteering, to get new people helping out.

"You can't have the same people doing the same work forever," said Sarah Mosaico, the north and central Alberta lead at JustServe, which is a free volunteer-run website and app that helps to bring together volunteers and organizations.

JustServe allows volunteer organizations to learn of each other's existence and cooperate, even informally, so they can connect and share information.

On a special page on its website, it lists multiple organizations offering different volunteer opportunities for those who want to help Ukrainians specifically in Edmonton.

In the first few months after the start of the war, there has been tremendous support for the Ukrainians arriving in Edmonton, she said.

"We have thousands of people who come on the website every month."

However, the first batch of dedicated volunteers is already feeling burned out, she said, so it's important to find new volunteers to contribute.

"We have to attract new volunteers and keep people understanding that this is a real situation and crisis, and it doesn't just disappear with every news wave."

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