ATHABASCA — It was 1914 when the patriarch of Athabasca's Bilsky family emigrated to Canada at nine-months-old, but he is the inspiration behind a slew of recent donations to benefit those fleeing Ukraine, as the Russian invasion continues.
Ben, Randy, and Bruce Bilsky are honoured their father and his Ukrainian roots, first with a donation of $6,000 of dry goods filling four trucks, and now the auction of a minimum five-figure piece of equipment with all proceeds going to the Ed Stelmach Community Foundation.
“About a month ago, we went into Costco and hauled four pick-up loads out to the Polish Hall,” Ben said in an April 29 interview. “We went in there, and we went in strong.”
The Bilsky’s said their father lost touch with relatives in the old country, but they know they have family there even if they’ve never met them.
“We don't know them because back in the days when dad emigrated there wasn't the communication there is these days,” said Ben. “Today you can communicate within seconds.”
And to continue the efforts the Bilsky’s have now donated a 2007 Case 650K LGP Crawler dozer to auction through Ritchie Bros. at the next auction in Nisku, which starts MAy 2.
“This Crawler dozer, 100 per cent of the proceeds go the Ed Stelmach Community Foundation, and Ritchie Brothers is waiving their fees,” said Ben.
At Athabasca County council’s April 27 meeting, Coun. Rob Minns brought the recent work of the company toward Ukrainian relief efforts to the attention of his colleagues around the table, asking if it could be posted on the county’s social media platforms to publicly recognize the generousity.
“That’s amazing. That they’ve done that is fantastic,” said Coun. Tracy Holland, adding the link to the Ritchie Bros. website should be included as well.
It was posted soon after the unanimous vote.
“Public works might actually want to buy that dozer,” Minns joked.
They weren't the only ones impressed with the donation, with the former premier of Alberta, and the namesake of the Ed Stelmach Community Foundation weighing in as well.
The donation was unexpected but timely, said Stelmach in an April 29 interview, as his foundation prepares to send even more sea cans over filled with dry goods and basic medical supplies to Warsaw, Poland to be delivered over the border at various locations into Ukraine.
"The donation of the dozer to Ritchie Brothers was quite a pleasant call and a bit of a surprise, because I didn't know Ben from before," he said. "He said, 'Our family wants to offer a dozer (and) all proceeds to go to the foundation.' Wow, that's a very generous donation and was very timely, too, because as time progresses, the situation in Ukraine is getting worse."
He added his foundation is now splitting the money between sending more supplies overseas and to help those fleeing to Alberta.
"The other part of the funds, a reserve (is) set up to provide a wide variety of services here in the province," said Stelmach. "Every person arriving from Ukraine has to have a medical certificate and because they're not refugees, they're really evacuees or displaced people, they're not termed as refugees yet by the government so, that's a $450 cost to them."
Stelmach said his foundation has become a hub for people wondering where where to find items like clothing and household goods to services for the evacuees.
"Calls are coming in and we can redirect them to a particular agency for furniture, for food," he said. "Servus Credit Union is helping; they're getting everyone a credit card and bank accounts and so many different companies are looking at different ways of supporting the new arrivals."
And that is why the Bilskys are hoping the dozer sells for more than it's worth, the money will certainly be put to good use.
“(It’s worth) $60 to $80,000 but it should go for a lot more,” Ben said. “There’s been a lot of interest.”
Donations can also be sent directly to the Ed Stelmach Community Foundation, Box 70, Vegreville, AB, T9C 1R1