After a year of helping hundreds of Ukrainians settle in Steinbach, the Ukrainian Settlement Task Force is winding down its operations.
But that does not mean that newcomers from Ukraine will no longer have a support team in Steinbach. In fact, Task Force Co-Chair Chris Goertzen says his group is moving aside in order to allow the Ukrainian Association of Steinbach to take over.
Goertzen says the Task Force started about a year ago after a number of people got together who wanted to make sure that Ukrainians fleeing the war had a place to stay in Steinbach. Goertzen says they have lost track of just how many newcomers they have assisted over the last 12 months but guesses it is well over 300 individuals by now.
Goertzen says the newcomers have been arriving in waves. At first, it was a trickle, but he notes as you get more families connected to Steinbach, they start telling their loved ones about our city, recognizing it as a place where people want to help.
He notes when they first started the Task Force, they were obviously hopeful that the war would soon end and that the people of Ukraine would be able to remain in their homes with their loved ones. But that has not been the case and Goertzen says they have had to respond accordingly. He notes when they first launched, they anticipated that their services would likely be necessary for about a year.
Goertzen says the Ukrainian Association of Steinbach held its inaugural meeting last Saturday. Seven members were elected to the board, all originally from Ukraine. Goertzen says five of them are newcomers, while the other two have been living here for a few years already. In addition to that, he says the Association will also rely on a number of volunteers.
"It's a nice mix and we'll continue to support them in their work," explains Goertzen. "But they are taking on the responsibility of helping each other and creating community."
Goertzen notes the Association is still in its infancy, though he foresees it having a couple of main purposes.
"Number one, they are going to build community and connect people with each other," he explains. "Number two, they are going to make sure that people are taken care of or supported in an appropriate way."
Goertzen says it is really exciting to see people wanting to help each other, wanting to build community and wishing to make a difference in their new home.
Though the Task Force will be coming to an end, Goertzen says they will continue to help and support the association in various ways. He notes it has been amazing to see how Steinbach and area have come together over the last year to make these newcomers feel at home.
'We've seen so many people in the community step forward, whether it's through donations, physical or monetary, people who have stepped up and volunteered to set up peoples' homes," he notes. "We've seen churches and other organizations wanting to make a difference."
He credits Southland Church in Steinbach for stepping up and providing furniture for dozens and dozens of families.
"I just want to say thank you to the community, and to organizations that have said, 'there is a need and we want to fill it,'" adds Goertzen. "It's been an amazing year to see everyone step forward like that."
According to Goertzen, the distribution centre at Southland Church will continue to accept donated furniture. However, he says the program being used specifically for Ukrainians is being amalgamated with their regular programming.
"It will still help individuals that need furniture," he adds. "It will help Ukrainian families that need furniture, but they will be part of that main system now that they have created."
With the Task Force now drawing to a close, Goertzen admits he has mixed feelings. Goertzen says obviously he wants the war to end in Ukraine, but he also wants to see people be able to live a fulfilling life and remain connected to their families.
"It's really gratifying to be part of a generous, giving community," he adds. "And that's certainly something we've seen over the last year."