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Jack Knox: Sending handmade love through the Victoria-Ukraine pipeline

The Compassionate Resource Warehouse has filled 13 40-foot shipping containers with aid from Vancouver Island to help Ukrainians.

Alice Mills likes to knit — and knit and knit and knit.

By Christmas, the Esquimalt woman’s fingers had fashioned dozens of beautiful sweaters, scarves, toques — anything kids would want in the cold.

But which kids? She had no particular recipients in mind, just wanted her creations to go somewhere they were needed.

They ended up a few blocks away at the Compassionate Resource Warehouse, from where they’ll go into a remarkable humanitarian pipeline that the charity has opened from Victoria to Ukraine.

Since the war began last February, 13 40-foot shipping containers stuffed with aid from Vancouver Island have gone to help displaced Ukrainians in Poland, Moldova and in the invaded country itself. Another container will be trucked away next week, bound for Warsaw.

The shipments have included everything from clothing and bedding to thousands of boxes of food from a Fraser Valley non-profit that makes dried soup mix from produce donated by farmers. Next week’s load will include five big generators to power mobile medical clinics equipped with operating-room beds, surgical implements and other gear deemed surplus by Island Health.

The first of the clinics has already been deployed in Ukraine. “It will go to the hot zone,” says the Compassionate Resource Warehouse’s Dell Marie Wergeland. She has led the volunteer-driven charity since it grew out of the Church of the Nazarene in 1999.

More than 500 containers have gone to schools, hospitals and the like in about 70 countries since then — including Burundi, Ethiopia, Ghana and Kenya last year — but on this day the focus is on the next shipments to Ukraine. Lately, there has been a big demand for mobility aids. “Lots of crutches, lots of canes, lots of first-aid supplies,” Wergeland says while standing in the Esquimalt warehouse (there’s another one in Central Saanich) dwarfed by towers of school supplies, linen, walkers and wheelchairs. “There are lots of kids with disabilities now, and trauma.”

Each shipment is slightly different, depending on what gets requested. One time, they were asked to outfit safe houses for displaced women — bedding, towels, kitchen ware, shower curtains and so on. On another occasion, foosball and ping-pong tables went from Victoria to a Warsaw facility for traumatized Ukrainian kids.

When a request comes in, Compassionate Resource Warehouse uses its website and Facebook to solicit donations of the goods in question. When asked to equip a home for refugees who had just given birth, it took less than 48 hours to put together enough supplies — blankets, baby clothes, personal hygiene kits — for 50 mothers and their infants. “We heard Monday and we started loading Wednesday,” Wergeland says.

The requests come from non-profit groups at the other end of the pipeline in Eastern Europe. A key contact is Peter Paluch, a Langley-based, Polish-born Pentecostal church representative, currently on his fifth trip to Warsaw since the invasion began. There, he works with a group that has the import permits to bring in containers like those from Victoria.

Volunteers unload and sort the donated goods, which then go where the refugees are, often ferried into the war zone itself in vans and private cars. It’s dangerous. At least two of the volunteer drivers have been killed. On Friday, Paluch saw fresh video of one van under fire; the drivers escaped unscathed but two women who had been sheltering behind the vehicle were cut down by a machine gun when they tried to flee.

Reached in Warsaw on Friday afternoon, Paluch said seeing how great and varied the needs are (he had just fielded a request for adult diapers for wounded Ukrainian soldiers) makes him thankful for donors here.

It’s not just the donations themselves, but the message that is sent when a stranger halfway around the world lets traumatized refugees know they’re not alone. A handmade garment from someone like Alice Miles carries meaning.

“We’re so grateful to Alice for what she has sent out, knitted with love,” Paluch said. “When we give those things to people, they know somebody cares.”

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Every year at this time, the Times Colonist’s Les Leyne marks the anniversary of Sir Winston Churchill’s death by inviting admirers of Britain’s wartime leader to gather in Beacon Hill Park. There, beside a hawthorn tree that Churchill planted in 1929, they toast the great man (that’s Sir Winston, not Les, though I’m sure the latter would appreciate the support). This year’s event will be at 2 p.m. Sunday. It’s in the Mayor’s Grove near Quadra and Southgate.

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