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Canadian aid for Chernobyl begins 2020 campaign

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BROCKVILLE - Mary Bernard, coordinator of the Shoeboxes for Seniors campaign, says it may be tougher this year to get their much-needed donations out of this country and into the right hands.

This fundraiser, started by Brockville businessman Dave Shaw, has been ongoing since 2003. The volunteers usually host a gala evening in July at the Brockville Country Club to raise the money to transport the donations to Chernobyl. This year that fundraiser had to be cancelled like so many other similar events. Bernard says fundraising for shipping costs "isn't glamorous" but it is a vital part of the program.

"People are wonderful about donating the items we need, but our biggest challenge is shipping," says Bernard. "Once a year, in late January, we send what we have collected. Last year it filled two, large, transport-sized shipping containers. And not one penny goes into administration costs - we don't have a phone or an office; we are all volunteers and do this ourselves."

The items people donate - soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, razors, shaving cream, bandages, socks and more - are packaged into shoeboxes and given to the seniors in Chernobyl who receive no government health funding. Bernard says many live without running water; hygiene is difficult at best. Even seniors' facilities are never without a need for personal items.

"One thing we realized a few years ago was the need for reading glasses," she says. "Someone donated several pairs of the non-prescription glasses you can buy in the dollar store and the seniors were just so grateful - Dave said he had never seen them so thankful."

She adds that it's not just the contents of the boxes which the seniors are grateful for - the interaction with Shaw and his volunteers gives them comfort and the knowledge they are not forgotten by the rest of the world.

"One woman with our program called them 'senior orphans' and it's true - they benefit so much from knowing someone remembers and cares about them."

Bernard has plenty of boxes available to fill, or she suggests you can simply drop off the items in a bag. All donations have to be checked for health and safety, then packed into boxes and held until shipping time in January. This year the campaign runs until December 31 and donations can be dropped off in a bin on Bernard's front step at 49 Crawford Street in Brockville, or at Alan Brown's Clothing at 56 King Street west in the downtown. Monetary donations can be made online and receipts for income tax are available.

"It's hard for us to imagine living the way these people do, but that's why we have to be generous. Even our own seniors from here donate, even while living on a fixed income," says Bernard, who recounts stories told to her by people who buy a few small items every month to put toward their donation.

The total shipment helps over 900 seniors and families. Shaw and his volunteers also support an orphanage with similar donations of soap and hygiene products.

If you would like to help, go to www.canadianaidforchernobyl.com

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