This Halifax group is helping Ukrainians furnish their new lives

When the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, Rick Langille wanted to help in any way he could, even though he was far from the conflict.

When he heard that Ukrainian refugees were coming to Nova Scotia, he and his wife, Sheila, began collecting donated furniture.

In the weeks that followed, their work grew into something much bigger.

“We’ve spread the word and we’ve been inundated with kindness and we’ve been inundated with donations — more than we can store, more than we can pick up, more than we can handle,” said Langille, who lives in ballast. Hants.

Langille now has five storage units in Halifax that are funded by donations. The Lions Club was a major contributor.

Langille said the most popular items are beds and child car seats. (Jeorge Sadi/CBC)

The units are filled with everything from furniture to clothes to children’s toys. Langille accepts everything concerning the household, as long as it is in good condition.

“Everything we have comes from local donors,” he said. “Across the province, we’ve had donors as far away as [Annapolis] Valley and Truro.”

The Langilles couldn’t take care of it on their own, so volunteers stepped in to help them manage the distribution and move the furniture from place to place.

“It’s just humans helping humans,” Langille said.

Langille said his faith prompted him to launch the initiative. (Jeorge Sadi/CBC)

Ukrainian families or their hosts can book a time to pick up all the items they need. The group organizes a collection day each week and several families stop to load their vehicles.

Anna Zherdetska is one of the volunteers. Since fleeing her home in Kyiv and arriving in Nova Scotia, she has wanted to help others who are in a similar situation.

“I’m very grateful that the Canadians are very nice and help us a lot…Rick and his wife, Sheila, met us at the airport, they helped us find a place,” Zherdetska said. “I want to help because when I receive good, I have to return that good.”

Zherdetska said it’s a sad situation for any refugee who has to “start their life over from scratch”, but the work that Langille and the other volunteers are doing can help with the transition.

Anna Zherdetska joined in the effort to help her fellow Ukrainians settle in Nova Scotia. (Jeorge Sadi/CBC)

Langille said that apart from the Ukrainians, many volunteers came from local churches. But he also worked with people from the Russian community.

Anna Vetrova came to Canada two years ago from St. Petersburg, Russia. She acts as a translator to help Ukrainians navigate the process of collecting their new possessions.

“I think it’s important for the community to feel united for a good cause,” Vetrova said. “Maybe to overcome the differences we have and focus on… what a difference we can make just by helping people.”

Anna Vetrova said she wanted to help show that she was against the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (Jeorge Sadi/CBC)

But a problem threatens the work of the group.

Langille said the group has been told it can no longer hold its weekly gatherings for families coming to pick up goods. He said the storage unit company, Metro Self Storage, told him it was an insurance issue.

The group is therefore looking for a new home base.

“Either a warehouse or a vacant store, vacant office, vacant building, school, church,” Langille said. “Anything that basically allows us to climb, unload and load without having to negotiate stairs.”

Storage company looking for a solution

In a statement to CBC News, Bruce Shannon, vice president of Metro Self Storage, said the company “fully supports the cause” and has provided Langille units with “charity discounts.”

Shannon said “the challenge we face is that our facilities are not designed for tenants to hold events outside of their units,” but the company is trying to “find a solution for all parties involved.”

Langille said anyone interested in offering a new storage location can get in touch through the Atlantic Canada Hosts for Ukrainians Facebook group, which now has more than 8,000 members from Canada and Ukraine.

He said his group has already helped more than 30 families, but is preparing to help even more, as a charter flight of more than 300 Ukrainians will arrive in Halifax next week.

“Right now we’re distributing, but our main focus right now is stockpiling because we know the need is going to get much bigger,” Langille said.

About Gertrude H. Kerr

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