Fr. Jacob enjoying pizza with kids at Parish of All Saints Church, a temporary shelter for Ukrainians fleeing the war. Photo from Parish of All Saints Church Facebook

Easter baskets raise funds for Ukraine

  • April 16, 2022

Fundraising to secure aid for Ukraine has been an ongoing passion and mission for Bilyana Coburn of Grande Prairie, Alta., for more than six years now. Most of the monetary contributions made by this Grade 5 teacher from St. Catherine Catholic School has gone to orphanages. 

She felt that “with the current situation, we needed to put everything into fundraising we can” to help those displaced by the Russian invasion. Last month, she pitched an initiative called Easter Baskets for Ukraine to Jesse Shirley, superintendent and CEO of Grande Prairie and District Catholic Schools (GPDCS).

“Easter of course is a very important time in our Church — especially now,” said Coburn. “We need prayers for Ukraine. … I thought it would be nice for there to be baskets brought with food.”

Until the end of Holy Thursday, the GPDCS community was invited to sponsor a family in Ukraine with a basket. There were extensive basket options for contributors to consider. For $10, they could supply their sponsored family with the essential foods (rice, oats, canned vegetables, milk, etc.), and baskets priced at $20 and $30 adds amounts of delicacies to the essential foods foundation.

First aid kits, hygiene supplies, diapers, pet food and kids’ toys were also items for purchase.

All items will be purchased from a “click and collect” online grocery store in Poland, and picked up by Coburn’s two contacts on the ground, the Catholic priest Fr. Jacob, and Tania Orshinshka, a longtime friend of Coburn’s mother. 

Fr. Jacob transformed his parish in Novyi Yarychiv, roughly 10 kilometres from Lviv, into an evacuation centre that is at times providing care for over 300 families.

Orshinshka, a university professor who helped Coburn with her past orphanage donations, has opened her two-bedroom apartment to offer meals, a place to sleep and basic medical support to individuals and families journeying towards Poland.

In early April a social hosted at The Den Pub and Carvery in Grande Prairie raised $27,000. About $12,000 of that sum went to Fr. Jacob’s shelter. The other $15,000 helped the clergyman provide financial aid to people seeking entry to Poland.

The final tally of Easter Baskets for Ukraine is yet to be determined, but there’s been a high level of participation so far.

“By (April 6) there were already 120 baskets purchased,” said Coburn. “If people could only donate $10, that amount purchases a lot of items.”

Coburn, 36, was born in Bulgaria to a Bulgarian father and a Ukrainian mother. She has spent plenty of time in her mother’s homeland, each year before turning 12 travelling with her mother, Birute Tokusheva, to spend summers in Zolochiv.

Like many, Coburn seeks the day for peace to reign in Ukraine. She had not visited the country for many years since her emigration to Canada, but she experienced the country five years ago with her husband Kevin.

“It was interesting to see Ukraine through my husband’s eyes. My husband is Canadian, born and raised in Vernon, B.C. When we started touring it was amazing to see how he would react to things while I was so emotional with coming back.”

She said the warm hospitality of the Ukrainians made an impression on them, as well as the beauty and cleanliness of the communities.


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