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Guelph church needs financial help to keep supporting Ukrainian refugees

St. Andrew's Church, along with Knox Church and Two Rivers Church, has been supporting Ukrainians who fled the war since 2022
Richard McRonald in front of the St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church.

A local church is looking to the community for financial help as they continue supporting Ukrainian refugees. 

St. Andrew’s Church on Norfolk Street, alongside Knox Church and Two Rivers Church, has been supporting Ukrainian individuals and families since the war broke out in 2022. 

But now, their funds are drying up, and some of the families are still in need of assistance. 

St. Andrew’s has been sponsoring refugees since 1980, from places like Laos, El Salvador, Afghanistan, Serbia, Ghana, Syria, South Sudan and more. 

When Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022, they wanted to extend their support to Ukranians fleeing the war. 

“We got ourselves organized, gathered some partners together: Knox Church and Two Rivers Church and rebuilt our refugee fund,” said Rick McRonald, co-chair of the church’s mission and outreach coordinating committee. They were able to raise around $40,000, with the intention of sponsoring one family for a year. 

When sponsoring a refugee, the church would go through government programs, since the Presbyterian Church in Canada has sponsorship agreement holder status through the federal government. 

Sponsors sign a 12 month contractual agreement with Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada, and it requires a lot of time and money. Those who have official refugee status can access various forms of government assistance as well. 

But it turns out, there wasn’t an available sponsorship program for Ukranians. Instead, the Government of Canada created a program called the Canada Ukraine Authorization for Travel. It can take years for refugees to make it to Canada; this significantly sped up the process, and allowed them to apply for a three year visa and work permit. 

That means Ukranians who fled the war aren’t legally refugees, and can’t access the same supports, he said. 

So they had to switch gears, providing support instead of sponsorship. 

Between May and November 2022, five hosts in Guelph opened their homes to 13 Ukrainian refugees, including three individuals and four families – mostly mothers and their children, and far more people than they initially expected. 

Normally, sponsorship would be limited to one year – although McRonald said they do keep in touch with some former sponsored families and help out when they can – he still does the taxes for a Syrian family they sponsored seven years back. 

“One of the problems is that we don’t know when it’s going to end,” he said. “With a regular sponsorship, you’ve got a 12 month commitment. That’s it. And with this, it’s endless, potentially.” 

“At the outset, the Ukrainians didn't qualify for anything. On a provincial basis, Ontario has allowed them to sign on to OHIP, so they've got health care coverage now, and they may have a couple of other things. But basically, they're on their own,” he said. 

They were able to stretch the initial $40,000 for two years. But now, it’s running out. 

All the adults began to work as soon as they could, and only one family of five is still living with a host, at his insistence.

“The host doesn’t want them to move out,” he said. “He loves having them in his home.” 

However, the church is still supporting three families. In two of the families, the mothers are both working but not making enough to pay the rent, so the church gives them a small top up each month, while they are paying the rent for the third family. 

In total, it’s around $3,200 a month. With only $17,000 left in their refugee fund, the money is expected to run out around June. 

“And then we’re going to have to reduce the amount that we’re providing on a monthly basis. And in some cases, it’s going to be pretty severe,” he said. 

McRonald said first and foremost, he would like to see the war stop. But in the meantime, he hopes the community will donate to their refugee fund. 

Several recent fundraisers including a spaghetti dinner and silent auction, a spring craft program and a concert have raised money for the fund, but it’s not enough. 

“We need more if we're going to continue to be able to support these folks,” he said. 

He said they’re not looking to raise any particular amount to rebuild the fund – the most important thing is that they raise an amount equal to what they’re spending. 

“The immediate thing is to continue supporting the families that we are supporting. We’re supporting them because they need it,” he said. 


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Taylor Pace

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