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Boxes of Love ends operation

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After 10 years of mobilizing the community to send much needed items and funds to orphans in Ukraine, organizers Nicole Yunker and Lindsay Rubeniuk announced the operation of local charity Boxes of Love is discontinuing.
“Since July there’s been some major developments in Ukraine. The government at this time hasn’t confirmed, but in our region, all the internats and baby houses have been shut down,” Yunker said, noting the current government plans to implement foster parenting.
Yunker and Rubeniuk learned of this development the first week of July, just before they were to ship the school supplies collected locally and it was not confirmed until the end of August.
In Nadvirna, the community supported by Boxes of Love, Yunker said, the baby house still has some children waiting to go into foster care and the facility is being used to provide hospice care for children who are terminally ill, along with their mothers.
The internat for children ages five to 16, she added, will stay open for one year, due to support from the community.
“Because we’re in very uncertain times and we’re not sure how long this will take to develop, we have decided to cease operations of Boxes of Love. So we will be closing our organization, as it stands right now,” Yunker said, noting the shipment of school supplies and running shoes arrived for the school year and the hygiene supplies were sent to the hospice facility.
Rubeniuk explained accountability was the biggest issue Boxes of Love was facing and without it, they could not send donations overseas.
“We aren’t sure that they would be given to those people that we had intended it for. So it might seem like a strong position to take, that we are going to wrap up Boxes of Love, however given the circumstances, this will probably be a couple of years until the government decides what it is going to do,” she added.
“Since we’ve always relied on accountability, and that’s been our major underlying rule, since we can no longer do that, we have to wrap up Boxes of Love. It’s as simple as that and as sad as that.”
The program has been fortunate, Yunker said, as the Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate, who have worked with Boxes of Love, volunteered to find the children and distribute donations to them, if the school is shut down and the community can not continue.
“Because our concern was, the kids were going to be sent to regular school without what they needed. The nuns stepped in, right away, within 24 hours and had to plan,” she said.
Yunker credited the strong group of volunteers in Nadvirna in helping Boxes of Love.
“And also for us, it’s a reminder of how hard we’ve worked to build our volunteer base in the community we’re in. So to start all over again, let’s say there’s another facility that opens at another community, it has taken us years to build to where we are and to have the people on the ground,” she said, pointing out the recent changes have not been reported in the media, Ukrainian volunteers for Boxes of Love alerted Yunker and Rubeniuk.
“When the government is in change, communication is very limited. When there’s any change in policies, they can’t communicate via e-mail.”
While the program has ceased, Yunker said, she and Rubeniuk still believe in the importance of supporting youth in Ukraine, as its infrastructure for social services is limited.
As a result, they encourage supporters of Boxes of Love to support Nashi in Saskatoon, Sask.
The Canadian-funded centre is independent from the Ukraine government, Yunker explained, and operates Maple Leaf House, a home north of Lviv, Ukraine, for up to 20 young girls, preparing them for life outside the centre and diverting them from human trafficking.
“We still believe in what they’re doing and will support them in their efforts. But we don’t need to exist, it all needs to be funneled directly to them. So we would encourage people to support Nashi,” Yunker added.
In developing Boxes of Love, Yunker and Rubeniuk learned there is a strong need for awareness around human trafficking in Canada.
The pair vows to continue to work with the CARE (Committee Advocating for the Removal of sexual Exploitation) committee in Dauphin, Yunker said, to raise awareness about human trafficking in the Parkland.
“So Boxes of Love itself may stop in operation, but all our volunteers are very dedicated. We will continue to raise awareness of what’s happening in Ukraine, supporting Nashi and also the human trafficking,” she said.
“So it will just take on a new form. We have a huge base of support in the Parkland and we don’t want that to stop. And we also want to continue to shine a light on what’s happening in Ukraine.”
As the pair reflect on the last 10 years, Yunker admitted is it difficult to say goodbye.
“But we’re so grateful and the people we’ve met who have contributed, we never would have met without this project. People have been amazing and so we’re focused on the gratitude,” she said.
Rubeniuk pointed out some initiatives will continue, due to Boxes of Love volunteers, such as an event on human trafficking in February.
“I think Boxes of Love has played a role in helping develop that awareness and has created events I think will still go on. We’re just going to be individually involving ourselves in different aspects of the community,” she said.
As one door closes, another opens, Yunker added, noting the annual Mary Kay fund-raiser for Boxes of Love will support the Food for Thought program in Dauphin at Super 8, Feb. 1.
Yunker estimated Boxes of Love shipped $11,000 worth of supplies to the Maple Leaf Centre, the baby house and the internat, including shipping, in 2017.
“So we end 10 years on a really high note, in terms of what we’ve accomplished and we hope for the best for Ukraine. That things will work out for them as well,” she said, adding the group will send one last shipment with the last of the funds they have.
Rubeniuk urged the community to pursue ideas for supporting others in need.
“If you want to go and create a charity that you feel something is needed somewhere, then I believe strongly in doing it,” she said.
“We just don’t want this to be sad or something looked at on a negative basis. It’s something that we did for 10 years and it spurred a lot of relationships, a lot of friendships and a stronger understanding of how we can combat human trafficking and the sex trade. And you know, I think that a lot of us have learned as individuals, you can do lots of stuff yourself.”

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M. A. Nyquist
REPORTER
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