Former COVID group changes focus to help Ukrainian refugees

By William McGinn

United for Ukraine members. Photo: William McGinn.

A local group has put together a donation drive for the refugees of Ukraine.

This Tuesday, Mar 15, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., at Trinity United Church in Bobcaygeon, the newly formed United for Ukraine Kawartha Lakes is hoping for medications, first-aid kids and personal care items – anything Ukrainian refugees may need since fleeing their homes.

Group member Karen Smith said there is a desperate need for over-the-counter medication and first-aid supplies and any they can receive will be shipped immediately through the Meest shipping service to Kyiv, Ukraine. Smith explained they are asking for only over-the-counter medications in pill form like Tylenol or Benadryl and no spray, liquids or alcohol based first-aid kits. Personal care items they are additionally hoping for include deodorant and toothpaste and items someone would need to get through fleeing their home, and they will be shipped through the Grace Church in Oshawa.

Additionally, the Coboconk Service Centre at 9 Grandy Rd and the Lindsay Service Centre will be accepting donations on their behalf for those who can’t make it.

Two years ago, the group was originally formed as the Kawartha COVID-19 Response Group, which was and still is operated by a small handful of organizers from Bobcaygeon and Fenelon Falls. Member and retired Toronto police officer Elizabeth Byrnes said the group formed at the start of the pandemic when Bobcaygeon Councillor Kathleen Seymour-Fagan created a COVID-19 relief fund to help those suffering from the outbreak at Pinecrest Nursing Home.

After things cooled down from the height of the pandemic, Kawartha Lakes did not necessarily need them anymore, but the group kept in contact through Facebook and Messenger. Most of the group had not actually met each other in person due to social distancing.

Smith was the one to bring the group back, but this time under the United for Ukraine title. She told the Advocate she grew up with a Ukrainian grandmother and Polish grandfather who adopted her birth mother, and as a result Smith grew up in a lot of Ukrainian traditions. She recounted how her Ukrainian grandmother was raised on “pretty horrific tales. Living in Poland you had to deal with famine and then Stalin, then the Germans.”

Two and a half weeks ago, Smith woke up in the middle of the night, sitting straight up, scaring her husband, and began sending a note back to the COVID-19 response group. “I said “Hello, long time no chat, I have an idea.” Then we just started working on it from there.”

“Karen was the one who worked to get this started,” said Byrnes. “It was her who found Grace Church in Oshawa which has connections with churches in Poland who were able to fund the company to do the shipping.”

When Byrnes, Smith and the other United for Ukraine members got together for this story’s photo, for most it was the first time meeting face-to-face due to COVID restrictions.

Smith said they are open to further support from people, from transporting donations to Oshawa, spreading the word and giving donations. If a person sends money, she said they will likely spend it on goods to donate to Ukraine, and they ask for them to either e-transfer it to Trinity Church to offset shipping costs, or they can direct their funds to humanitarian or military accounts through the BCU Bank. They have a Facebook page and a list of priority items that will be sent directly to Kyiv. Anything else will be sent through Oshawa.

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