Newcomer Fund aims to fill gaps for new Huron County residents
BY DENNY SCOTT
The Goderich Lions Club, along with a number of other community-minded groups and individuals, have started the Huron Newcomer Fund to help people find their footing in the county.
The fund, started earlier this year, offers up to $1,500 per family to help with challenges newcomers are facing, according to Goderich Lion and chair of the Huron Newcomer Fund Committee John Maskaant.
While applicants to the fund have been and are expected to continue to be focused on refugees coming from Ukraine, Maskaant said the goal is to help all people coming to Huron County, not just Ukranians.
That said, the club’s effort to help during the Ukraine war has somewhat led to the creation of the fund, Maskaant told The Citizen. The Goderich Lions Club had made donations of both supplies and funds to help refugees through Lions Club International.
“Very early on in the war, we were approached by some of the Ukrainian people that are here,” he said, adding they spoke to the club in March. “At the time, we raised funds to help the refugees. This was donated by individuals in the club and the club itself to go through the Lions International fund which would then go to service clubs in the countries around Ukraine to help the people coming out of the country.”
He said helping and serving is the purpose of the Lions, so when the Ukrainian people started coming here, the local service club felt the best way was to take a leadership role and help co-ordinate all the efforts.
“We had church groups, municipal groups and other organizations,” he said. “The best way for us to help was to be a part of all the efforts.”
The club would become the focal point for the fundraising, he said, and help facilitate the efforts of other organizations and private donors through the fund and its committee.
He called the fund a “help of last resort” when it came to providing for the refugees, while fellow committee member Christine Marshall of Wingham said it “fills in the gaps” left between other organizations.
“The federal government is providing initial support, and the provincial government has supports in place, and the Salvation Army is stepping up with [connecting newcomers to] local food banks, clothing and household items,” she said. “There are some areas, however, that are difficult for newcomers to handle, financially.”
She pointed to situations like obtaining eyewear necessary for work - and not safety glasses, but actual prescription glasses.
“Newcomers may not have been able to access those kinds of services since leaving their homes, like in Ukraine,” she said. “A lot of people coming from Ukraine have left their country and have been trying to exist in different countries across Europe, with the ultimate goal of getting to Canada. They aren’t coming directly, however, and they have had a span of time where things have lapsed for them, like dental care or eye care.”
She said that newcomers also require medical exams in order to stay in the country. They have to be done within 90 days of landing and aren’t free. Locally, that means travelling to London or Kitchener, so on top of expenses like the exam and having X-rays done, there are travel expenses and likely food expenses.
“That’s what we would consider a gap,” she said. “How are they going to pay for those when they’re trying to find jobs, or just having to buy food?”
Nearly 60 Ukrainian newcomers have arrived in the area, Marshall said, and while some have left, there are still an estimated 51 remaining.
“Most of the adults have now found some kind of employment, though likely not in their usual field,” she said.
So far, the fund has had six applications and the committee has dispersed approximately $3,000. She said no family has hit the upper limit of $1,500 yet.
As for how the fund is being received, Marshall said it’s a mixed bag.
“The beneficiaries are very grateful that we do this for them,” she said. “The response from the larger community, however, has been mixed.”
She said the group is seeking more donations to help add to the funds that were provided by the Goderich Lions Club and private donors to help further the efforts of the committee.
She said that, given the Goderich Lions Club’s involvement, it made sense to start in Goderich, but the committee will soon be targeting the rest of the county and surrounding area to ask for donations.
“Some businesses that are employing the Ukrainians are aware of their situations, but beyond that, we’re looking to inform the community at large, to try and connect with people who already have a sympathetic ear,” she said.
Marshall said she hopes there will be more people out there like her who want to connect with the people whom the committee is helping. While she says it’s a good idea to donate to national groups, and says it’s great that the Lions Clubs are sending funds through their own organization, she wants a personal connection with the people she is helping. Having hosted a family for three months, she says there’s something special about helping on that one-on-one basis.
“If people in the local area want to help, and feel their money is being used specifically for people in this area, this is the way to do that,” she said.
The committee currently has six people on it, including several Goderich Lions Club members, and is looking for a seventh member.
Having only recently started up, the committee is still working on its policies and procedures, and will welcome new ideas from members according to Marshall.
Maaskant said those interested in helping can go to the Goderich Lions Club’s website and find the link for the Huron Area Newcomer Fund where people can donate, apply for funds or contact the committee.