In the gutted-out ruins of a former grocery store, volunteers this week readied a shipment of food – and many other things – to a struggling community in Belarus.
However, just like a year ago, the Brockville-based charity Canadian Aid for Chernobyl (CAC) is now playing catch-up to pay for those food boxes.
CAC volunteers joined local Rotarians and a few Girl Guide parents on Wednesday evening, braving the year’s worst ice storm to date, to make sure the organization’s humanitarian aid shipment will be ready to roll by month’s end.
They had to move from their previous warehouse location, the former Recorder and Times building on California Avenue, after that building was sold.
“We had things stored in transports for seven months because we couldn’t find a warehouse,” said CAC director of humanitarian aid Dave Shaw.
Eventually, they moved into the former Valu-Mart location in the Brockville Shopping Centre.
CAC runs a wide variety of humanitarian initiatives benefiting the Chausy region of eastern Belarus, an area in the path of the radiation from the 1986 meltdown of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor in neighbouring Ukraine.
Since 1991, CAC has been bringing groups of children from the Chausy area to stay with local families for a few weeks in the summer, offering them a much-needed respite from radiation.
CAC has also been doing other humanitarian work in the former Soviet republic, including trips by local volunteers to distribute the aid in Chausy, for the past 21 years.
This year’s shipment will again include 600 food boxes filled with staple products destined for impoverished families in the Chausy area.
The boxes are funded by local donations, at $50 each, and as of Friday only 235 of them had been covered, said Shaw.
That’s more than the roughly 100 boxes covered as of last year’s packing week in late January, but still behind, noted Shaw.
“This weekend we’ll sell a lot because we’ll have families coming from all over Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec that send parcels to families that they hosted years ago,” he added.
Shaw expects that boost to bring the number of food boxes covered to more than 400, which will leave approximately 200 to “sell” before the end of February.
“We’ve made our commitment to 600,” said Shaw.
The food boxes will be part of a larger shipment heading to Belarus in two 40-foot containers. They will bring the number of aid containers shipped to Belarus to 136 over the past 21 years, added Shaw.
Other items in the containers include medical supplies, bicycles, handmade quilts and the by-now-familiar Shoeboxes for Seniors.
The containers are to leave Canada at the Port of Montreal on March 2. Shaw is flying to Riga, Latvia, on March 23 to receive them.
From that European Union country the supplies will be taken to Mogilev, the regional centre of the area that includes Chausy.
Shaw will return to the area in mid-April, part of a local CAC delegation to help with the distribution of the aid.
Despite the disruption in moving warehouse locations, CAC has been able to fill both containers with the same quantity of supplies as last year.
CAC oversees many other humanitarian initiatives other than the annual aid shipments.
Some of these have included renovating and re-furnishing the pediatric ward at the Chausy Regional Hospital, with help from the Green Family Foundation.
CAC is also in the process of establishing a rescue home in the town of Chausy, to care for several children of various ages.
“The children would have the advantage of living in a loving family environment while attending regular public school and would have access to extracurricular activities,” CAC officials note on the organization’s website.
The Malcomson family has committed the funds for the purchase of the property, they note. Funds for renovations and furnishings are needed, with the target date for completion being the end of 2019.
CAC is also seeking donations for a “child rescue program” at the Chausy Orphanage.
The organization notes there are 94 children living at the Chausy Orphanage 26 of whom are orphans while the rest “have been rescued from difficult situations by CAC” thanks to donations received through the organization’s auction gala.
More information on CAC’s other humanitarian initiatives, and opportunities to donate, are available online.
Donations to Canadian Aid for Chernobyl can also be mailed to P.O. Box 244, Brockville, Ont., K6V 5V5.