St. Jacobs’ Jakobstettel Inn was filled with guests celebrating an Orthodox Christmas on Saturday.
Ukrainian families staying at the Woolwich Guest House for Ukrainian Refugees in Transition were excited to invite the volunteers who have helped them in Canada to a traditional Ukrainian Christmas celebration, teach them about their culture and give something back.
Andrii Shulhin and Mariia Mamaisur are the coordinators hired to administer the guest house and find the Ukrainian families for whom the place would be a good fit. They’ve wanted to host a thank-you event for months now.
“So why we also decided to make the celebration because we feel very uncomfortable with that we received a lot of donations and help [from] Canadians and we feel that we need to give them back right the same, the relationships form, the good times with us,” said Shulhin. “So we don’t want to be the nations that are always living by donations and all the receiving, we also want to give to people who help us.”
Mamaisur added, “ I think everybody is very interested in how it looks like here inside, like what we are doing, or [about] the people who are living here – they don’t know who exactly gets these things (donations). They only know about me and Andrii.”
“We talked about what they could do,” said Rosslyn Bentley, the executive director of the Woolwich Community Health Centre, which oversees the administration of the guest house. “Because they wanted desperately to thank the volunteers, we were thinking that maybe we could do a barbeque at the end of the summer. But that was kind of busy, and there weren’t that many families here yet. So this Orthodox Christmas, we thought would be a good idea, because we’re all through Christmas celebrations. We’re all on that downside, we’ve got the January blahs, right? Not that we need any more food, but Mariia started to tell us about the special food for the holiday. They wanted so desperately to be able to say thank you in a very special way. So this is perfect.”
“I guess it started with us preparing for them. And today, it feels like we’re like one family all together,” said Dan Girardi, a volunteer since the beginning who has been instrumental in fundraising for the project.
The table was filled with traditional Ukrainian food, including Herring Under a Fur Coat, which is a dish made of layers of herring, beet, carrot, potato, mayo and onions, pancakes with cream cheese and salmon, stewed pork knuckle, the familiar homemade perogies, and many other dishes and desserts.
Later, after the meal was served, some speeches were scheduled as well as some traditional Ukrainian singing.
The event took a fair bit of preparation. Shulhin kept track of the work: there were 60 guests invited, 260 perogies, 16 litres of borscht, six kilograms of kutia (a dish something like a sweet porridge made of wheat berries, honey, and dried fruit) and 12 total dishes made. He said the majority of the food was bought at the St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market, and their traditional costumes made from supplies they bought at Len’s Mill Store where a Ukrainian who had stayed at the guest house now works.
“We tried to use all local resources to make the party great,” he said.
Clint Rohr, a St. Jacobs resident, had the initial idea to turn the former inn into a place of refuge for Ukrainians. “Back in March it was hard to imagine this kind of day,” he said at the event.
Last winter, Rohr says he was thinking about the call for shelter for Ukrainian refugees while out for a walk, and when he saw the empty Jakobstettel house, he thought it was a good place for refugees to stay.
The community rallied around the idea and people and business owners worked together to clean and renovate the former inn to make it habitable.
Mamaisur and Shulhin were the first to come to the home, and the first families arrived soon after. So far, 39 Ukrainians have landed at the inn, with 17 having moved on to other accommodations, says Shulhin.
The former inn is temporarily being donated for this use by the owner of the property. The home is set up for Ukrainian families to stay for a period of time while they find work and more permanent places to settle elsewhere.
The house is currently housing 22 Ukrainians, including 11 kids who all worked together to put on the event.