Ukraine donation drive ending early after overwhelming response, organizers say

Organizers of a donation drive in Ottawa for Ukraine say they can only accept donations for a few more days after being overwhelmed by items over the weekend. 

Volunteers had to stop midday Saturday to sort donations, cathedral now 'at capacity'

Sophia Lega sorts and labels donated diapers at the Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral Hall in Ottawa as the Ukrainian Canadian Congress collects items for humanitarian aid packages on March 5, 2022. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Organizers of a donation drive in Ottawa for Ukraine say they can only accept donations for a few more days after being overwhelmed by items over the weekend. 

By midday Saturday, the Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral Hall in Ottawa was overflowing with clothes, non-perishable food, medical supplies and other items.

"We're at capacity. We literally can't take any more things. It's a health and safety issue," said Olenka Reshitnyk-Bastian, co-ordinator of humanitarian relief for Ukraine at the Ottawa branch of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress.

Reshitnyk-Bastian said volunteers stopped accepting donations at noon Saturday to sort and box up the items but were accepting donations again on Sunday — and would continue doing so until March 9.

Only priority items going forward

The organization plans to send the donated items to Ukraine through Meest Corporation, a Toronto-based shipping company that put out a call for items to forward along to their partner organizations in Ukraine. 

Meest is currently sending priority goods like medical items, medicine, tents, sleeping bags and combat gear, so Reshitnyk-Bastian said they're now only accepting those items as well.

As for the clothes and non-perishable items that have been donated, Reshitnyk-Bastian said they'll be placed in storage until Meest is ready to ship them. 

"In about a week's time, Meest will come out and say, you know, we need food now and we'll ship that off," she said. 

People walk across a bridge.
Ukrainian refugees walk along a bridge at the buffer zone with the border with Poland on Sunday. More than 1.5 million refugees have fled Ukraine since Russia invaded in late February. (Daniel Leal/AFP/Getty Images)

James Fraser and Sarah Quigley were some of the people who stopped by the church Saturday, bringing with them non-perishable goods and feminine care items.

"I'm shocked at the amount of traffic ... every street [nearby] is backed up completely, and they're completely full inside. So we're leaving things outside," said Quigley. 

Quigley and Fraser said they wanted to do something to help the people of Ukraine, especially as the last couple of years with the COVID-19 pandemic haven't been easy. 

"If we can make that a bit easier for people in some way ... it's the best thing we can do," said Quigley. 

Olenka Reshitnyk-Bastian, seen here before the weekend donation drive, says they'll continue accepting priority items like medicine, tents, sleeping bags and combat gear until Wednesday. (Stu Mills/CBC)

Donate money if you can, says expert

Kate Bahen, managing director of Charity Intelligence Canada, understands the urge of Canadians to help but said donating money rather than items is usually the better way to go. 

"In Ottawa, you have a community organization overwhelmed with the response," she said. "Similarly, charities and organizations outside of Ukraine and inside of Ukraine will be overwhelmed with this stuff."

Charity Intelligence Canada has a list of organizations accepting money on their website. Bahen said it's always better to do a little research before donating, and also to donate money online rather than to people collecting in person.

Even so, Reshitnyk-Bastian said sometimes people want to donate physical items rather than send money over the internet, and that's what she's trying to facilitate. 

"I understand that there's hesitancy with donating to organizations, and people like to see donations in the form of physical things," she said.

She said the Ukrainian Canadian Congress isn't collecting funds, but they do have partners who are. She and other volunteers have been directing people who want to donate money to those places, which are listed on their website.