Donations pile up as Ukrainian church in Montreal struggles to pay shipping costs

Volunteers circle the hundreds of boxes that line the aisles and crowd the pews of St. Michael’s Ukrainian Catholic Church, looking for the next box to sort through.

A man opens a box to find bags of dry pasta. A woman opens another and examines the toothbrush wrappers and childproof plastic containers inside. At the back of the church, a mountain of diaper boxes dominates the rest.

“We’re working really hard to sort it all out,” volunteer Rebecca Shunsky said, as she browsed through boxes of medical supplies. “I try to keep up with the pace of work and do my best.”

Montrealers, horrified by images of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, gave all they could in hopes of sending it overseas, but the task of sorting and paying to ship it n t has not been easy for the volunteers of the Ukrainian churches in the city.

“We can’t keep everything in the church. We get a crazy amount of it,” said Hanna Tatsenko, who helps collect donations at the church on rue d’Iberville in the Ville-Marie borough. from Montreal.

WATCH | The biggest challenge “is actually figuring out how to deliver it to Ukraine”, says one volunteer:

Donations for Ukraine are pouring in, but 40 tonnes are still blocked in Montreal

Hundreds of donation boxes are piled up at St. Michael’s Ukrainian Catholic Church on rue d’Iberville and in a warehouse in Saint-Laurent. It may be too expensive to ship the 40 tons of donations that have not yet been sent overseas. 2:43

Tatsenko, who has a background in logistics, said the church has already moved an additional 40 tons of donations to a warehouse across the town of St. Laurent.

There is so much that the church no longer knows if it can afford to give it all away, despite volunteers working tirelessly to pack, sort and label everything for shipment.

“The shipping cost is too high. We are a non-profit organization; we do not [have] money to pay for it,” Tatsenko said.

Since beginning its donation campaign, St. Michael’s has been able to make two shipments to Ukraine, but Tatsenko estimates that shipping the rest could cost up to $200,000.

Donations must be sorted and properly labeled before being shipped to Poland and then to Ukraine, with the help of a Halifax-based shipping company. (Radio-Canada/Dave St-Amant)

To try to cut costs, Tatsenko said the church partnered with a Nova Scotia transportation company owned by Ukrainians.

“They collect the cost from here, bring it to Halifax and ship it from Halifax,” she said.

The donations are first sent to Poland before being transported across the border to Lviv in western Ukraine and distributed throughout the country where they are needed.

Donations for refugees

St. Michael’s is coordinating with St. Mary the Protectress of Rosemont Ukrainian Orthodox Church to streamline donation efforts: anything overseas goes to St. Michael’s, while goods needed by refugees upon arrival in Montreal are treated by the Orthodox Church.

At Rosemont Church, rows of neatly folded clothes, some still bearing their tags, lie on long folding tables next to boxes of soft toys and baby shampoo.

Parishioner Ines Sassette helps sort through all the donations that come in. She knows the items will be useful for refugees fleeing war.

“They come with nothing,” Sassette said. “All Ukrainians are family to us, so we try to help our nation, so that they have a future.”

Sassette, who is Portuguese and married to a Ukrainian, said it was encouraging to see how Montrealers from all walks of life pitched in.

“I give my time with love and joy, and I see the whole community coming here and contributing a lot, and wanting to help Ukrainians,” she said.

Shunsky, who is of Russian descent, said volunteering at St. Michael’s was “the least I could do” because “there is a country in crisis”.

“Yes, I’m Russian, but I’ve also been very fond of Ukrainian culture since I was a child,” she said. “I’m not doing this because I’m Russian: I’m doing this because I love Ukraine.”

These boxes stacked on benches represent just a few days worth of donations to St Michael’s Ukrainian Catholic Church. An additional 40 tons of goods, ranging from drugs to clothing to food, are in a warehouse in Saint-Laurent. (CBC/Dave St-Amant)

Sassette said St. Mary the Protectress Parish has enough donations for the refugees who are expected to arrive in a few weeks, but said there are contingency plans to raise more afterward, if needed.

St. Michael’s, meanwhile, continues to accept goods destined for Ukraine, but the greatest need now is for financial donations to help cover shipping costs.

As difficult as managing donations can be, Tatsenko says it pales in comparison to what people in Ukraine are going through.

“What’s overwhelming is that we’re calling close friends and family, and we don’t know if they’re going to answer the phone. Every day. It’s overwhelming,”

Tatsenko arrived in Quebec 12 years ago with her husband, and the couple have two children here, but all the rest of her family is still in Ukraine.

“It’s still your home country,” she said with tears in her eyes. “It hurts to see how it turns to ashes.”