When Local 146 (Edmonton, Alberta) put the call out in April for donations to aid Ukrainian relief efforts, supplies immediately began amassing into the local’s training center. It wasn’t long before the floor resembled more of a furniture and household goods warehouse than a training center.
“We’ve been operating since April, and it’s pretty much been nonstop,” says Orysia Boychuk, president of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress-Alberta Provincial Council.
L-146 Business Manager/Secretary Treasurer Hugh MacDonald says that in one single morning alone, over 40 pallets of new clothing arrived. And the donations—and need—have continued to grow.
Some 375,000 Ukrainians live in Alberta, Boychuk explains. That’s due to Ukrainians who fled Russia for Alberta settlement 130 years ago weary of oppression and war.
So, when Russia inflicted war on Ukraine in March this past year, Alberta became a natural place of refuge.
“Over 8,000 and closer to 9,000 people have arrived in Alberta now because of the war,” Boychuk says.
The UCC-APC organizes 60 different organizations to advocate and coordinate for the needs of Ukrainians in Alberta, and when refugees began arriving this past spring, the organization swung into action collecting supplies and funding to provide for the unsettled newcomers. Boilermakers at Local 146 were among the first to connect with UCC-APC. They delivered a check to support the efforts.
“It was a very humbling experience. They asked if we needed a warehouse for supplies, but at the time, we already had a warehouse where we were collecting medical supplies and storing and sending emergency response equipment,” Boychuk says. “So, we parked that information.”
But as more and more Ukrainians began arriving, she saw the need for furniture and basic housing supplies increased. She needed a place to store incoming items and where newly arriving Ukrainians could select things to help them settle in Alberta.
“We were fortunate the Boilermakers’ space was still available, and we were able to begin collecting more furniture and serving more newcomers.”
The training-center-turned-warehouse has been operating ever since, 12 hours a week—four hours Saturdays, four hours Sundays, and two hours each Tuesdays and Thursdays. Boychuk says 20 shifts have 20 volunteers working organizing and processing donations, supporting families and loading and unloading furniture from donor vehicles and onto vans for delivery. As quickly as items vanish to their new owners they are replenished by incoming donations.
“We’ve served thousands of people already,” Boychuk says. “Our priority is to ensure we have mattresses available and the core basics to setting up a home: a kitchen table, chairs, a couch, some drawers or a dresser.
“We anticipate the need will continue at least another four to six months. We’re looking possibly to Christmas or March.”
Boychuk notes that incoming furniture donations are reviewed and that their request is for only new or gently used items that are in good shape. She says the community has been supportive and generous. And, in addition to providing warehouse space, the L-146 Boilermakers also field phone calls about donations, volunteer in the warehouse and personally donate.
“This is a difficult time for Ukrainian people,” Boychuk says. “An extraordinary thank you goes out to the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers Lodge 146 for donating this warehouse and allowing our Ukrainian community to collect and distribute furniture from their warehouse.”
Mack Walker, an assistant business manager for L-146, says that in addition to the warehouse, volunteering and donations, the local is also trying to find work opportunities for refugees.
“We’re trying to connect those who have welding experience or even those looking to start a trade,” he says. “One of the refugees completed his Job Ready training, and I believe he may have pulled a slip to work in one of our shops!”
For information on how to support the UCC-APC’s relief efforts, visit www.UCCAB.ca.