Canadians have welcomed Ukrainians displaced by the year-long war in Ukraine. An estimated 30,000 Ukrainian newcomers have arrived in Alberta and are trying to source the necessities for their families as they begin rebuilding their lives.
When Janice Krissa-Moore began assisting a family friend from Ukraine and realized the scope of the need, she was motivated to take action.
Krissa-Moore, who holds a Business Administration diploma with a marketing major from SAIT (1998), started the Free Store for Ukrainian Newcomers last year in Edmonton. It began as a temporary crisis response to the immediate need she saw. She now runs the store with her daughter Jorgia, and it has grown into a community-supported endeavor to provide clothing, household goods and more to Ukrainians.
“I thought we’d do it for two weeks,” says Krissa-Moore, who is of Ukrainian descent herself. “I just kept thinking, okay, if you can’t help everyone, help one.”
A year later, the store has signed a year-long lease in a bigger, brighter space to ensure the support and welcome provided to families can continue. Run primarily by volunteers, the store helps over 400 families and up to 1,000 visitors per week.
“Donors from Nova Scotia to Vancouver have been captivated by the hope the store has created,” Krissa-Moore says.
It’s a massive undertaking, with $60,000 to $100,000 worth of goods going through the store weekly. Over 200 volunteers are involved, and with over 10,000 visits to the store since opening, it’s clear just how critical the help has been.
“It’s not a handout. It’s a hand up,” the store’s organizers like to say. Donors recognize that newcomers have come from lives and homes just like what we enjoy here. The Free Store is simply restoring some of what was lost and fostering safe landings for these new families.
The gift of giving
Philanthropy is not new to Krissa-Moore, who has funded a scholarship through SAIT for eight years.
“I just helped fund another student who is finding their way in business because I know business scholarships are hard to come by,” she says.
Krissa-Moore intends to keep the gift going as long as possible by naming SAIT as one of her beneficiaries in her will.
“I’ve had such a beautiful career. I’m using all the knowledge I gained at SAIT to make a positive impact,” adds Krissa-Moore, who has since completed her MBA at Royal Roads University and is currently the Senior Vice President of Development for Junior Achievement Alberta and NWT.
Krissa-Moore says one of the most important things she learned during her time at SAIT was the power of partnerships. “The collaboration is unbelievable,” she adds.
This notion holds true when it comes to the Free Store. It wouldn’t exist without the care and commitment of many volunteers. Krissa-Moore says donations are meaningful no matter their size.
“From someone willing to travel by bus to bring us a single box each month, or someone donating thousands of dollars — it all means so much to the people of Ukraine,” she says.
What's next for Free Store
While the Free Store helps families get homes outfitted with the basics, its goals don’t stop there. The organizers have established Ukraine’s Kitchen, the first commercial kitchen in Canada run solely by newcomers and serving up dishes from Ukraine. One hundred per cent of the profits support newcomer wages and the efforts of the Free Store. There are also plans to expand the store’s model into Calgary.
To learn more about Free Store and all the ways to lend your support, including a list of immediate needs, visit freestoreyeg.com.
📸 Photo credit
All photos were courtesy of Janice Krissa-Moore and the Free Store for Ukrainian Newcomers. View more photos at the Free Store for Ukrainian Newcomers Facebook page.