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Faith Mission sends clothing to Ukraine from Weyburn depot

Update provided at Weyburn meeting of efforts to send donations to Ukraine

WEYBURN – An update on the work of Faith Mission touched on the work they are doing to provide clothing, bikes and other items to people in war-ravaged Ukraine.

Nathan Elias of Faith Mission, which is headquartered in Winkler, Man., spoke to a small crowd in Weyburn at the Credit Union Spark Centre on Sunday evening, explaining what they are providing and how they are getting into Ukraine. The group has a 40-foot sea-can container on Queen Street, located next to Fido’s Doggy Day Care just off First Avenue NW.

The items they collect include clothing, shoes and boots, bedding and blankets, and bicycles, and they will be sent overseas primarily to Ukraine, but also to other former Soviet states like the Republic of Georgia, Estonia, Moldova and Kyrgyzstan. Items they do not want donated are breakables, like dishes and glass items, or household items.

Locally, Faith Mission has connected with the Mennonite Church in Yellow Grass, who have agreed to look after the depot site for the charity, but Elias noted that Faith Mission is not associated with any particular denomination.

Referring to a recent address to Canada’s Parliament and Senate by Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, he noted that the president made reference to a verse from the Bible about people being ready to serve

“He was referring to us as Canadians being ready to assist them in whatever way we can,” said Elias.

Noting bumper stickers and signs everywhere that state, “Stand With Ukraine”, he said, “We as Faith Mission have assisted Ukraine for the last 30 years. With this war going on there, we’re still standing with Ukraine.”

Elias added that prior to this invasion of Ukraine by Russia, the organization was criticized for not providing their assistance to Russia.

“We can’t send humanitarian aid to Russia because of the way their government works. They seem to have a level of pride that says ‘we don’t need help from the outside world’,” said Elias. “We would love to help Russians. Hopefully sooner or later we will be able to help them after all of this is over.”

Most of the items donated to the group is clothing, and it’s sorted into six categories: men’s, ladies and children’s clothes, warm clothes, miscellaneous and needing mending.

Blankets are also donated, and Elias noted they are the most sought-after item in the bales when they’re delivered, as at least two blankets are sent with every bale of clothing. When the bales are opened, the blankets are taken immediately.

Each bale of clothing is compressed in a baler, and weighs between 80 and 100 pounds, although if a bale contains men’s jeans, it can weigh up to 110-115 pounds.

In a year, Faith Mission has sent out around eight to nine sea-can containers, which can hold 400 bales, along with bicycles and other items, such as gift boxes.

“The containers are filled right to the front and to the top,” said Elias.

The organization sends the items to churches in Ukraine, and they distribute the clothing and blankets directly to people it their region, not going through any other middle-man or organization, he noted.

For many of the churches, they will distribute the items to people in a 200-km radius. The bales of clothes are taken out of the seacan container and put into smaller trucks, which drive into Ukraine to distribute them to the churches, explained Elias.

One pastor they work with takes care of six or seven churches. At one church in Kharkiv, the second largest city in Ukraine, the clothing donations are put into a secure facility in the church’s basement.

“From a central location, they get distributed in smaller vehicles which go out to a number of different villages,” he said, noting they will usually present a Gospel message when the people gather at a hall or church for the clothing distribution, and then the bales get opened.

Elias noted he was able to visit Ukraine in 2018 to see the distribution of bales of clothing, with their group visiting 10 locations in five days.

The bicycles they collect and distribute are greatly appreciated, said Elias, as many Ukrainians are not able to afford to have a vehicle. The bikes are a means of transportation rather than for exercise and recreation, as many people use them in Canada. Faith Mission has sent about 100 to 150 bicycles a year, and has sent around 4,000 bicycles over the last 25 years.

Prior the war, they had been sending food packages, but lately the method has changed to sending money to an associated organization in Germany, as they can purchase and deliver the food within days at a lower cost than to ship it from Canada, said Elias.

A food item that has become both scarce and expensive in Ukraine right now is bread. At one time they could send a kilogram of bread for 50 cents Canadian, and now that has gone up 10 times to $5, and that’s in areas where bread is still available, in Western Ukraine. In Eastern Ukraine, it’s virtually impossible to find for most residents.

In a recent sea-can container shipment, Elias noted that Prairie Flour donated 1,000 kg of flour which they were able to ship over, and they hope to be able ship more in the coming months.

The container located in Weyburn has been in place for close to two years, and it’s been emptied a number of times, including at Christmas time when the container was fairly full.

In the last six months they have been able to prepare 80 to 90 bales of clothing received in the Weyburn container, and Elias noted that the donations picked up once a story ran in the Weyburn Review on Feb. 2.

Elias said the organization hopes more donations will come from the Weyburn area again, including of cash donations, as he notes each bale costs the group about $25 to ship.