By Barb Brouwer
Special to the Observer
The Shuswap has stepped up and beyond in support of Ukraine refugees in Salmon Arm.
Jean-Luc Desgroseiliers, founder of Shuswap Support to Ukrainians, set a Gofundme goal of $35,000 to help support families moving to the Shuswap from war-ravaged Ukraine. That amount had grown to $37,503 by Oct. 10.
A dinner and auction at the Salmon Arm Legion raised close to $6,484 and an Oct. 1 meet and greet featured a meal, 70 silent auction items and seven live-auction times that raised another $17,325.
Fundraising coordinator Judy Waller said organizers were astounded with the meet and greet where a two-hour plane ride over the Shuswap raised $2,400 while another supporter paid $25 for a single hot-dog.
Waller and Desgroseillers say the Oct. 1 event was very moving as O Canada was sung followed by the Ukraine National Anthem, whose lyrics speak of a willingness to die for freedom.
“One man spoke of losing his home and two businesses, so there were lots of tears in the audience,” she said.
Not only did the events introduce the newcomers to the community, but Desgroseilliers marveled that several groups which operated in isolation are now working together.
“They’ve broken the boundaries,” says Desgoseilliers, noting many items sold for far more than their actual worth. “Churches, community groups, a karate club – they came together to support a common cause.”
Mykhailo (Misha) Svyrydovych arrived on 30 Aug. and is looking forward to reuniting with his wife, Sophia, and daughters at the Kelowna Airport on Nov. 4.
His family had been living in a shelter in Nice, France but were told they would have to leave and ended up living with a sister in Switzerland, said Desgroseilliers, noting life in shelters is difficult as refugees can be told to move on at any time, whether they have somewhere else to go or not.
When he arrived, Svyrydovych made clear that he did not want his family to join him in the Shuswap until he was employed and had a place to live.
Within one month, he had secured a job and purchased a car, with the help of Bob Burechailo. Shaunne and Dan Letourneau, members of his other host family, have made their cottage available rent-free for several months.
Waller laughingly describes Desgroseilliers as the “Energizer Bunny,” who works ceaselessly to welcome Ukrainian families and see that they are provided with the means to live well in the Shuswap.
Desgroseilliers’ partner, Carole Landry, is also involved in a variety of administrative tasks, including the housing co-ordinator who maintains regular contact with the newcomers.
Desgrosseilliers has a simple answer when asked why he has focused on Ukrainians, rather than refugees from other countries.
“You can’t help everyone and do the maximum for them,” he said. “I looked around and didn’t see anybody doing anything so I started looking for volunteers. Now we have more than 100.”
Waller has as long history of volunteer service. Her Circle of Friends knitting group meets once a month and has made a blanket for each family, along with toques and mitts for most of them.
Inflation is having an effect on Shuswap Support to Ukrainians’ ability to provide for the families so donations are always welcome. E-transfers can be made to email@example.com, or by sending an email to make arrangements for pick-up of cash or cheques.
Visit www.shoreikankarateshuswap.ca/ukraine for more information or to volunteer to help.
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