Local humanitarian returns to Sarnia for brief check-in before returning to Europe

Sarnia-Lambton man helps Ukrainian refugees relocate to Canada. (Photo courtesy of Johnathan Verroen)

A Sarnia-Lambton man, who spent months helping Ukrainian refugees flee the war-torn country, is temporarily back home to help with resettlement efforts.

Johnathan Verroen arrived in Sarnia last week. He plans to stay in the area for about three weeks before going back to Europe for a couple of months.

“I don’t have plans. I just kind of follow my heart and where the need is,” he said.

Verroen first went to Poland on April 2. He lost his job during the COVID-19 pandemic and said he felt compelled to help overseas while watching the war unfold on the television.

“Hearing all the horrible stories, I just had this calling that I felt like I was supposed to go. I thought I was crazy, and a lot of people thought I was crazy,” he chuckled.

Verroen said he tried to ignore the calling but couldn’t. He set up a GoFundMe page and left the country with “no direction” as to how he could help.

“I just kind of went on a whim.”

Sarnia-Lambton man helps with humanitarian efforts in Europe. (Photo courtesy of Johnathan Verroen)

After arriving at the border crossing in Medyka, Poland, Verroen said he was shocked to find little to no Canadian presence there. He began to help with the resettlement process at various cities by assisting refugees with documents and flights.

Throughout his time in Europe, Verroen kept in contact with Sarnia-Lambton MP Marilyn Gladu and local residents eager to help as host families.

“I am simply the man on the ground there. I talk with Ukrainian refugees and I try to match them up with people back [in Sarnia-Lambton.]”

“A lot of the Ukrainians who are here seem to be happy, they’re very thankful. A lot of them want to work right away. Some of them know English, others are still learning,” said Verroen. “It’s the same thing with Ukrainians that are in Poland right now and I have some in other countries that are waiting to come here… they’re excited, they’re nervous.”

Meanwhile, Verroen said he knows humanitarians in Europe are getting tired and want life to return to normal. He hopes to see more government support.

“As this war continues, it’s going to be much harder to get support… to find the resources,” he said.

On a local level, a fundraiser is scheduled to take place on Friday, June 10 at Lighthouse Community Church in Sarnia. The event is nearly sold out but there is an online auction to support Ukrainians find refuge in Lambton County.