Last October, Amanda Zapotochny contacted Blair Hordeski after having heard that more Ukrainians were coming to Portage la Prairie. She informed him that she really wanted to help them get settled. That's when the power of Portage la Prairie's generosity came to the forefront once again with, what Zapotochny describes as, help from above.
"I don't have a lot of extra finances to house them or anything, but if they just need community or food or whatever, some clothing, I'd love to help out," says Zapotochny. "He gave me a name and I met with her and her daughter and it was just so organic. She was a lovely lady. We chatted and then I was getting together with a group from my church. We get together every Tuesday to just talk about life and stuff. I kept talking about this woman that I had met and how it was just so nice to be part of something and the struggles that they had, and that sort of thing. So, our house church decided, 'Let's do this together.'"
It was then that she notes she contacted Hordeksi again to sponsor a family. Zapotochny says they especially wanted to help a family with children.
"Blair got back to me and he said, 'We have a family coming on this day. They have nothing.' So, it went from just community to now we're going to find everything this family needs; beds, dishes -- anything. You wake up in the morning, you turn on the light, you grab a face cloth -- things like that, that you don't necessarily think of throughout the day. You want a cup of coffee while you don't have any mugs, don't have a bed to sleep on, and don't have pillows or a blanket. There are so many little things that we just take for granted -- even those of us who maybe don't have a significant income -- but it's your daily, living thing."
She explains their efforts then progressed and went to Facebook in order to network and see what they could do.
"It just rolled in. People were bringing us bedding, clothing, and pantry items. Then it finally got to the point where they planned to make a list of everything needed," adds Zapotochny. "I literally walked through my house and wrote down every single thing we use day-to-day like things like a garbage can. You don't think about garbage cans. You don't think about a broom. You just throw your garbage away. So, we made this list. Some lovely people donated bedding and beds and other people said, 'Can I send you some money? I can't really help you.' So, we had money come in and we got to bless this man in the most incredible way (and I'm going to get teary-eyed)."
Zapotochny notes the house church decided to move the family in and met with them.
"We rolled in with literally everything that you could need, from an apron for the people doing cooking, sandwich bags, so that you can make a lunch, and we just saw how much it floored them. We had the first lady I had ever met come to do the translation because this new family spoke no English whatsoever," continues Zapotochny. "And at the end, she was bawling because she had moved from Ukraine down to France, to Germany, to Italy, all the way down the coast, as she was waiting for paperwork. They fled in a hurry and they had to wait for their visas and their passports because they grabbed nothing. She said, out of every country that they had lived in on their way to Canada, it had been just a little bit of help here, a little bit of help here. She said, 'We come here and we feel home.'"
She explains everything snowballed from that point. Zapotochny says one man's friend needed a bed, so they sent her a text.
"He said, 'Hey, Amanda, I hear you can get people beds.' I was standing in Walmart buying tea towels for this family," adds Zapotochny "I said, 'Oh, okay, I guess I will.' We reached out to the base, and people there said, 'We have an extra bed.' Just every little thing that we need, which seems super-insignificant, has just shown up. I just did the numbers from helping one lady. We have 46 people that we have interacted with, whether it's the full house. We found out last week, there's a lady who's been sleeping on the floor since June, and that's not right. We put the call out and a bed showed up literally within hours. Another person who's been sleeping on the floor in the living room, he's living with his family, and just arrived. They didn't ask for a bed for him but maybe if we could get a couch. So, somebody came to pick up an order of cupcakes, and she's like, 'What are you looking for right now?' I said, 'Well, actually, I think we're looking for a futon.' She hands me the keys to her house and says, 'There's a futon in my basement. It's in perfect condition. I was going to bring it to the MCC. Please take it. There are sheets, there are pillows -- everything -- just take it.' She just handed me her house keys and trusted me to go pick this stuff up. It's literally anything that we have needed has been supplied for us and it's all through this community."
She outlines others who got involved in the effort.
"It started off with myself and then I asked our house church. So, my really good friend, Hannah Weston, has now joined, and Jade Tarr -- the three of us -- with Blair at the helm," adds Zapotochny. "I would say I just keep harassing Blair every time, 'Where's the new family? When are they coming? What do they need?' And so, he's been really good that way. And in finding finances, just by asking people, we put it on our Facebook. We've done a few little fundraisers. We're going to have a few more and that's the core of it. It's just little bits and pieces of people all throughout the Portage area as far as Gimli. We had a lady in Gimli who sent us money. We had a person in BC who saw what we were doing and sent us money. It's global!"
Zapotochny says it's been about 17 families they've helped this way.
She explains they've created a little community with them, were able to have Christmas events, and have them in their homes for meals.
"We've got one lady who's, right now, in Winnipeg," notes Zapotochny. "We've been helping them with little things like doctor appointments. They don't have dentists and they don't have finances. There's a local dentist, Doctor Lee, who took a child in. She said, 'Don't worry about the bill,' and just things like that. I mean, she's not going to do that for everybody, but just she knew that it was a huge need and she just stepped up, no questions asked."
Zapotochny describes it as experiences that have fulfilled her ten times over.
She says if you'd like to make donations, they're always looking for new beds, adding these people have fled from their homes with nothing, and they want to put their best foot forward to help them.
"The last lady that came didn't have a winter jacket. She was in flip flops and that's not doable here in Portage la Prairie," notes Zapotochny. "The finances that came in. We were able to go get her a brand-new winter coat. We let them pick out their own boots. There's a sense of fulfillment when they get to have something new and not just a bag of discards. We want them to feel as human as possible and we want them to feel the truth of Portage and how the people here are phenomenal. You don't have to look far. It's all around."
You can call Zapotochny at 204-870-1001 and leave a message. A fund is set up at Stride Credit Union called the "Help Ukraine Fund," where you can also donate.
After our interview, Zapotochny sent us this email:
"I just had to share with you what happened after I left. We (Hannah, Jade and I) had planned on moving in a new family that afternoon. When I left the station I had a voicemail telling me that the sofa we had procured was going to be too large for the apartment. Immediately, my heart sank, as we strive to do one large move and make their house complete -- a place they can come back to relax. I pulled into the Walmart parking lot to collect my thoughts, and call back someone else who had left a voicemail. It was a total gift from God. Two gentlemen were moving their mom into a home out of town, and the contents of her entire two-bedroom apartment were being donated to help Ukrainian refugees. Not even an hour later, I met with these two earth angels and, after seeing all they had to donate, they helped me load the perfect-sized sofa onto the back of my truck."