Rotary clubs are among those who have swung into action to help with the struggles being faced by Ukrainians abroad and to help refugees settle into their new homes in the Calgary area.

Through its volunteer network and charitable foundation, the North Calgary Rotary Club is taking the lead in a collaborative effort with other Calgary community organizations to help refugees settle into their new homes.

Rotarian Gerry Darichuk says they are expecting the arrival of at least 7,000 of the 35,000 Ukrainians who have selected the Calgary area as their preferred destination.

While many of their needs are being provided by the Canadian and Alberta government and other agencies, he estimates it will cost an additional $5,000 to $7,000 per family to meet their basic needs.

Emergency clothing, public transportation, expenses for the care of children, and medical costs not covered by our health care system are among them. Among them is the requirement for all refugees to have a medical within 90 days of arriving. That alone costs $500, Darichuk says.

Julia, her 22-month-old daughter, and her mother are among the Ukrainian evacuees arriving in Calgary. Her husband remains in Ukraine for the time being.

Rotarian Cliff Tyminski says they are using a similar model utilized to aid Serbian refugees with three priorities: finding host families, employment, and mentorship

Based on that experience, he believes providing long-term mentorship is key in helping the new residents.

"You can go with a family or get a job but there will be other challenges and constant mentorship is required," says Tyminski. "If there was a situation with employment or housing or with school, they have someone to talk to because there is a lot of mental stress."

Arriving on Apr. 5, Julia has recently started her first job. At this point, she is unable to fully utilize her Master's in Psychology. It's a situation many educated refugees will face when arriving in the country, and it's one area that mentorship can help.

ShelterBox in Ukraine

At the conference, the traditional "Rooms of Friendship" were replaced with ShelterBox "Tents of Friendship."

It gave participants a chance to see what supplies the international relief organization provides when called upon.

"When someone steps into these tents, and they realize what these people call home for a while, it's very impactful," explains Meg Schmieder, ShelterBox community fundraiser coordinator, who arrived from their Canadian headquarters in Toronto for the conference. 

The tents are able to accommodate a family of six and dividers can be added should privacy be required.

They come equipped with essential items required to survive, and each is tailored to the situation or location.

"It became quite clear they needed much more than shelter. They needed access to water, access to light, access to cooking equipment, so that's what we started to do."

Right now, they are in the thick of the crisis in Western Ukraine with three distinct operations.

Thousands of mattresses are being sent to collection centres in Lviv, Ukraine. In partnership with Relief Aid, thousands of shelter kits and other essential items are being provided for people surviving in damaged buildings.

ShelterBox is supporting thousands of refugees in Moldova with high-priority items they can carry.

The basic needs of people crossing the border are being provided, including emergency shelter, non-food items, and cash assistance.

Assisting families in Ukraine is just one of its half-dozen operations around the globe.

"Climate change and the ongoing COVID pandemic are influencing the humanitarian landscape and ShelterBox is prepared for the foreseeable influx of needs from refugees and the worsening climate."

ShelterBox was founded in the small town of Helston, Cornwall UK, by the Rotary Club of Helston-Lizard in 2000. Now 20 years later, it's an independent, international disaster relief organization.

It has assisted over 1.5 million people  with emergency shelter aid and other essential items and training.

"Rotary makes our work possible," she says. "They raise an incredible amount of money and we're only able to reach the people we do because of Rotarian support."

The Cochrane Rotary Club hosted the district conference on May 7, attracting around 300 Rotarians and guests.

shelterboxShelterbox was the charity of choice at the conference. They provide emergency shelter around the world ,including Ukraine. Rotary District Governor Martin Parnell gives his thumbs up along with Meg Schmieder, ShelterBox community fundraiser coordinator.